Friday 9 December 2016

Harry hoping Invictus Games will 'smash stigma' around mental health issues

Published 08/05/2016 | 06:21

Prince Harry as he visits venues ahead of the Invictus Games 2016
Prince Harry as he visits venues ahead of the Invictus Games 2016

Prince Harry has said he hopes the Orlando Invictus Games will "smash the stigma" around military mental health issues just as the London event tackled physical wounds.

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Harry's comments came in a public discussion with former US president George W Bush and veterans about the "invisible" wounds, like post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), those returning from combat operations can suffer.

Speaking a few hours ahead of the Orlando Invictus Games' opening ceremony the fifth-in-line to the throne told a day-long symposium hosted by the George W Bush institute: "I think the Invictus Games in 2014 in London whether we wanted it to or not - of course we wanted it - smashed the stigma around physical wounds.

"What I really hope for Orlando is that we can do the same for Invisible injuries."

Harry, who carries out voluntary work with injured military going through rehab, said: "I've spoken to everybody who has severe PTSD to minor depression, anxiety - whatever it might be.

"Everybody says the same thing, if you can deal with it soon enough, if you can deal with it quick enough, and have the ability and the platform to speak about it openly, then you can fix these problems."

He added: "And if you can't fix it, you can at least find coping mechanisms - that's what it's all about, there's no reason people should be hiding in shame after they've served their country."

The prince said it was a misnomer that returning military who had seen combat were a "ticking time bomb" and he called on the business community to employ those who had served because of the skills they offered.

Harry added: "If I ran a business I would want individuals like this regardless of their situation - I'd want them for what they stand for, for the training that they've had, for the values that they stand up for."

The former American leader is honorary chairman of the 2016 Invictus Games and has made it a cornerstone of his post-presidential work to support US military veterans and their families.

But Mr Bush remains a controversial figure for some as the War On Terror he launched following the 9/11 attacks, saw thousands of western forces, including hundreds from the UK, killed in campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan to defeat terrorist forces, while the death toll for Iraqis and Afghans was far higher.

Mr Bush, who was joined by his wife Laura Bush, began by paying tribute to Harry's 10 years' of service as a British Army officer and then for "worrying about the people you served with".

The symposium on Invisible Wounds, also covered the issues of traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress, and other psychological health issues and was staged in Orlando in the athletes' village that is home to the 14 nations who will be competing over the coming days in the Paralympic-style games for injured military and veterans.

The former US leader said: "I miss saluting the vets, I have great respect for the men and women who volunteer for our military.

"I also understand that these men and women can be a tremendous asset for our country and therefore I want to be a part of helping (their) transition from the military to the private sector. And one of the real problems we've hand is the invisible wounds.

"Part of the reason why we're so thrilled Invictus Games enabled us to join them is because this will give us a platform to say to vets 'it's ok to seek help'.

"'You're courageous before you got hurt, you're courageous now and seeking help is a sign of courage'."

The prince and the former president were joined on stage by an injured American serviceman and a UK counterpart.

Air Force Master Sergeant Israel Del Toro suffered third degree burns to 80% of his body when he was blown up by an IED (improvised explosive device) in Afghanistan in 2005.

He was left disfigured but has battled back to fitness and was awarded the military honour, the Purple Heart.

Former Royal Marines commando JJ Chalmers also joined in the public discussion, his right arm was blown to pieces in an IED attack in Afghanistan in 2011.

The two men talked about their experiences and joined in the discussion which - despite the serious topic - featured good natured banter which had the invited audience laughing.

Press Association

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