Princess Kate is behind a positive shift in the commitment to children’s mental health, a leading expert said today.
On Wednesday, the royal mother of two sympathized with other young moms about the challenges of parenting during a visit to the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families.
“She knew exactly what these mums were talking about — about children not sleeping and how stressful it is to try and bring up small children,” Peter Fonagy, chief executive of the charity, tells PEOPLE. “All the mums said how much she talked to them as just another mum.”
And she is helping shape the national conversation: This week, British Prime Minister Theresa May laid out her hopes for greater help on kids’ mental health.
“I don’t think the Prime Minister would be where she is if it weren’t for the royal family’s Heads Together program, which I think was the brainchild of Her Royal Highness,” Fonagy says of Kate. “She has caused a national shift in terms of the acceptability of mental health as a problem that we all need to deal with.”
The message is resonating beyond the U.K. “I think it is having an impact in Europe, certainly,” he adds. “There is a remarkable combination of her approachability and comfort in dealing with the issue of mental health without embarrassment or shame or stigma. She can help shift the conversation around her and make it much more acceptable for people to admit that it’s something that’s real for them.
“It was really very nice that she had direct experience of motherhood that she was able to share with other women.”
He adds, “She is totally convinced that early intervention is the way to go — that mums need support and help. When you can’t sleep because of a young baby and you’re on your own is tough.
“What we have tried to explain today is just how important the first five years are for supporting the emotional wellbeing. She really got that and was impressed by what we are doing and hoped there would be more centers like this.”
He adds, “If you are a parent in an adverse environment, then you don’t have the resources to give to this new person. The developing human brain works on a kind of serve and return way, so they do something and the person responds to them. When that doesn’t happen then it’s very stressful for the child.”