How 'Pioneer' Kate Middleton Is Bringing Addiction and Mental Health 'Out of the Shadows'

The royal mom has raised awareness "at a time when addiction is becoming ever more complex and growing in volume," says charity leader Graham Beech

Kate Middleton
Photo: Ian Vogler - WPA Pool/Getty

Kate Middleton has helped bring the scourge of addiction and how it’s wider effect on families into the forefront.

Seven years of involvement with one of her key charities, Action on Addiction, was a “catalyst” for her keen interest early childhood development, the royal mom has said.

Kate, 37, is now sending out “a really important message that addiction is not something that should be hidden away behind closed doors,” says Graham Beech, chief executive of Action on Addiction. “The more people talk about it, the more they can find the help and get the treatment that they need.”

Kate has “helped us to bring addiction out of the shadows and encouraged other people to rally ’round and support what we’re trying to do at a time when addiction is becoming ever more complex and growing in volume,” he adds.

9/23 Cover featuring Princess Kate

Out and about as she meets people through the charity, she “has this almost innate ability to enable people to feel at ease,” Beech tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover story.

He joined the duchess as she met with around eight people who’d been through one of the charity’s treatment programs. “They talked to her very, very naturally,” he says. “And they were keen to share their stories. She made it very easy for them to do so and was very, very engaged in the conversation.”

For Phil Caine, a recovery coach from the Cumbria Drug and Alcohol Service who met Kate and husband Prince William in Keswick, northwest England, in June, that rings true. “I felt like I was speaking to somebody who had an equal understanding of what was going on,” he says. “She had empathy for the people and the situation. I felt that she was very present in that moment. That’s what I mean by presence. Not presence as in, ‘Wow, a princess is walking through.’ ”

Describing Kate as “a pioneer,” he says, “For someone of such a high profile willing to look and evaluate a situation that society is struggling with and go into communities like ours brings it to the mainstream. It makes it real.”

For more on how Kate is managing her dual roles of motherhood and future Queen, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE on newsstands on Friday.

Billy Robinson, 18, of the teens’ We Will campaign in Cumbria who met William and Kate that day, adds, “It’s nice to see a different type of leadership. She is engaged, she gets people, she is receptive.”

He praises the royals’ Heads Together (an initiative that was Kate’s idea) project for giving young people “a lot of hope. Their taking responsibility to teach people about mental health shows great promise. She’s definitely got a lot of drive and is definitely very informed about the issue.”

Prince William, Kate Middleton and Prince Harry announce Heads Together in 2016. Nicky J Sims/Getty

After meeting, the teens gave Kate and William a sneak peek of their latest short film, Boy. Within hours, the couple’s social media posted a link to it. “They’re obviously true to their word,” says Robinson. “They said they’d take a look and they obviously liked it so much that they posted it.”

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