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Princes William and Harry break mental health taboos for a new generation | Simon Wessely

May 2nd, 2017 by

There is no correct way to deal with trauma and grief. But the brothers are showing that it’s OK to dispense with the stiff upper lip and ask for help

Big boys don’t cry, so I was told as a child. But has that always been the case? Nelson’s captains as they made their slow way towards the French fleet at Cape Trafalgar certainly didn’t think so. Many had wept when first shown the battle plan. Tears were not unmanly – far from it. Nelson’s captains were “men of feeling”, part of the culture of sensibility. And this wasn’t just an affectation of the gentry: jolly Jack Tar wasn’t always jolly, and wept buckets on numerous occasions captured in contemporary accounts.

Politicians such as Edmund Burke and Charles James Fox were also liable to burst into tears in moments of high parliamentary emotion, as shown in many satirical drawings. As Thomas Dixon describes in his splendid Weeping Britannia: Portrait of a Nation in Tears, it was not until the Victorian era that stoicism replaced sensibility, and the cult of the “stiff upper lip” was born. And it wasn’t even British – the phrase had been popular in the United States for several decades before it first made an appearance over here.

Related: Prince William: suicide callout shed light on men’s mental health

Related: The lesson of Prince Harry’s grief? We need mental health services for all | Suzanne Moore

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