Prince Harry Steps Out Solo for YMCA Visit as Meghan Markle Prepares for Royal Baby's Arrival
The Duchess of Sussex's last public outing was on March 19 when she and Prince Harry made a surprise outing to New Zealand House in London honor the victims of the recent terrorist attacks
With just days to go before he becomes a first-time dad, Prince Harry stepped out solo on Wednesday for an important cause.
The royal visited the YMCA in London to meet with a group of organizations supporting the mental health of teens and young adults. Just one day after he and wife Meghan Markle, 37, launched their own Instagram, the outing marks the first time one of his appearances was chronicled on their new account, SussexRoyal.
Soon after the event, six photos from the outing were posted to Instagram with a caption that read, in part: “There continues to be huge progress in smashing the stigma that surrounds mental health, but let’s keep normalizing the conversation. Let’s keep reminding each other that it’s okay to not be okay, and to listen to each other. After all, how we think determines how we act, how we feel, and how we treat ourselves and those around us.”
Meghan and Harry are expecting their first child later this month. While the Duchess of Sussex has kept up a busy schedule throughout her pregnancy, she has no new public duties on her calendar as she prepares not only for their baby’s arrival, but for the couple’s move into their new cottage in Windsor.
Meghan’s last public outing was on March 19 when she and Harry made a surprise outing to New Zealand House in London honor the victims of the recent terrorist attacks.
During his visit, Harry learned about how the YMCA, in the London suburb of South Ealing, is supporting young people in the area and took part a roundtable discussion convened by The Royal Foundation’s “Heads Together” campaign — the mental health initiative spearheaded by the royals.
They discussed the personal and social issues that are often the underlying cause for some of the mental wellbeing challenges that young people face.
Harry spoke passionately, reiterating his concerns about social media and online games — calling out Fortnite — for the addictive pull they have on kids.
“Growing up in today’s world, social media is more addictive than drugs and alcohol. Yet it’s more dangerous because it’s normalized and there are no restrictions to it. We are in a mind-altering time.”
But, he added, “We are in an exciting time because everybody in this room has an opportunity to actually make a real difference so that young people coming through are less connected to their phones.
“They can be as connected as they want to be but they have to have human connection as well. Without that human connection when you do have a problem you have nowhere to go and the only place you might go is online and you probably end up getting bullied.”
“In the interests of prevention there are things that are happening at the top that together all of us are slowly putting the pressure on. A game like Fortnite for instance may not be so good for children. Parents have got their hands up – they don’t know what to do about it.
“It’s like waiting for the damage to be done and kids turning up on your doorsteps and families being broken.” And then gesturing towards the media, who he recognized were in the room, he added, “That game shouldn’t be allowed. Where is the benefit having that game your household? It’s created to addict, an addiction to keep you in front of a computer for as long as possible. It’s so irresponsible.”
He thanked the charities around the room for all the work they are doing. Earlier, he said charities had to be better at telling the success stories.
“Most of the people I’ve met who’ve been through a really dark place — 99 percent of them have come through it and found mechanisms to carry on with their normal life or have made serious adjustments in their life to be able to cope. You, as charities, I don’t believe necessarily put those people forward. Those are the icons, the people that young people need to see and hear their stories. There is too much negativity surrounding mental health. No wonder it’s so hard for young people to actually talk about it.”
Emma Thomas, the CEO of charity Young Minds, which is a Heads Together partner, said afterwards, “It was really fruitful. It wasn’t just a sharing of experiences but very much how do we come together to do more together for young people. We recognize that there is a crisis in terms of need and accessing support – but a recognition that we can play a stronger role together.”
She praised the “really strong convening power” of Harry involved and added, “You can hear from his passion today that there’s a long-term commitment. Some of the ideas that we’re developing – if we are to come back we know that we will have an interest and a potential champion. We know that there is genuine passion and interest alongside us to bring about change.”
She tells PEOPLE, “That passion and belief in young people. When he talks about young peoples’ experiences and putting them in the front it’s is so true to all of us. It is clear around the social media side and online games that he has a real concern around that and we could all have had another hour talking about that. Some of us run or have digital services so we see the benefits certainly but clearly that we know there are some harms they are accessing too which he is obviously conscious of preventing.”
She praised the royals’ Heads Together. “It has played an enormous part. We are now are at the point where we have a real national awareness of the level of need for young people – that is astonishing in quite a short period of time. The level of funding commitment,” has followed she added. ‘However you have opened up that there is a reality for young people who are being encouraged to be open about it and don’t yet feel they are talking to people who are able to support them. It creates a real challenge.”
Harry also discussed the negative impacts of social media with some of the YMCA’s Mental Health Champions, including Sophia Zahra, 21, from Swansea.
“He was amazing, he was really lovely,” she said. “It brings so much needed attention to mental health. He listened to what we had to say, he was really interested in our stories. He was very empathetic.”
She said the royal didn’t speak about his own experience, but said she could tell that “he understood what it was like to experience that.”
Throughout England and Wales, the YMCA provides mental health services to 17,000 young people each year, using workshops, family mediation and therapeutic services.
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And, matching the Heads Together #OktoSay of 2017, Harry, 34, also learned about the #IAMWHOLE campaign, which was developed in partnership by the U.K.’s public health provider, the National Health Service, and the YMCA to encourage young people to talk more openly about mental health.