This is typical of the Daily Mail attitude but I'd go as far to say that this is quite a dangerous narrative for them to keep pushish, in light of the fight to make mental health issues less stigmatised. The message given by people who understand mental illness far better than some twat who works for the Daily Mail is that people need to open up and talk about their struggles. The "stiff upper lip" is exactly what mental health charities are trying to argue against.
I worry about Prince William and his generation’s love of letting it all hang out. What’s wrong with a stiff upper lip?
Like so many of my fellow OAPs, I find myself watching a lot more TV these days — including programmes I wouldn’t have bothered with before I gave up full-time work at the end of November.
One such, which I’ve been watching this week, is the Netflix comedy drama Sex Education, which has won rave reviews in some quarters.
I should say at once that I wouldn’t recommend it to readers — least of all to those who think they see more than enough gratuitous sex on mainstream TV, without seeking out more through a streaming service.
Indeed, there are plenty of scenes in Sex Education that wouldn’t look out of place on a soft porn channel.
But although the show has its amusing moments (at least for those of us with a liberal attitude to the subject matter), my chief objection is that the plot is so wildly improbable. For a comic drama to work, if you ask me, it must feature believable characters and have at least some connection to real life.
Unless today’s teenagers — boys in particular — belong to a completely different species from those of my own generation, growing up in the Sixties, the show seems to lack any such link with reality.
For those wise enough to have given Sex Education a miss, I should explain that the story concerns a geeky 16-year-old, Otis Milburn, who is acutely embarrassed by his mother’s profession as a sex therapist.
So far, so believable. But then young Otis is persuaded by the school glamour puss, on whom he has a crush, to set up a nice little earner offering sex therapy to his fellow pupils, using the jargon of the psychiatrist’s couch, picked up from his mother, played by Gillian Anderson.
At this point, the script seems to me to part company from the real world of teenagers, as one after another of Otis’s schoolmates approach him for counselling on their highly embarrassing sexual problems.
These range from addiction to what used to be called the ‘solitary vice’, to difficulties with intercourse and other troubles I wouldn’t dream of committing to print in a family newspaper.
In the real world, would today’s youths really be so willing to open up to a fellow pupil about such delicate matters — and risk gossip and ridicule among their peers? If so, teenage attitudes must have changed beyond recognition since my day.
I particularly remember one afternoon in the late Sixties when a group of us 15-year-olds at Westminster School were summoned to a talk about sex, which was to be given by a visiting monk. (Yes, we thought it odd, too, that the school should have chosen a young man committed to a vow of chastity to advise us on this, of all subjects. But he seemed well informed, and spoke without any visible show of embarrassment.)
What sticks in my mind is that at the end of his talk, he gave us all pieces of paper, on which he invited us to write down questions about anything we wanted to know about sex, and any sexual anxieties we might be suffering. He promised to answer them all as best he could, anonymity guaranteed.
We wrote, or pretended to write, then folded our papers and handed them in as instructed. One by one, he opened them up, finding that most were blank and the great majority of the rest were facetious.
To my shame, I recall that at least half a dozen in class — among whom I fear I must count myself — had been struck by the same unoriginal thought and written: ‘Do you have any dirty habits?’ Oh, how witty and sophisticated we thought ourselves. Monks. Habits. Geddit?
If my memory serves me right (a big if these days), only one of the 20 or so pieces of paper contained what might be called a genuine inquiry, from a boy wondering if any harm might come from his weakness for pleasuring himself.
When the monk read it out, we sniggered and looked round the classroom — to see one of our number turning a bright, beetroot red. He couldn’t have identified himself as the questioner more clearly if he’d had a flashing beacon on his head. So much for anonymity, poor chap. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had nightmares about it to this day.
As for the rest of us, brought up to keep our troubles to ourselves, we would rather have died than confess any ignorance of sexual matters — let alone unburden ourselves of an embarrassing problem to be shared with the group.
Then again, nor would we have dreamed of passing around photographs of our private parts, even if we’d had the technology to do it. Yet an extraordinary number of young people today seem to do little else on social media. So perhaps there may, after all, be a grain of truth in Sex Education’s depiction of an unembarrassed generation, happy to let it all hang out, as it were.
Ah, well, whatever the facts, it is clear that His Royal Highness Prince William would side firmly with the Otis Milburn approach, believing that openly discussing any anxieties or problems is the first step towards putting them right.
Indeed, in Davos this week he went further, blaming his grandmother’s generation and its buttoned-up, grin-and-bear-it ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality for an epidemic of mental health problems in Britain today.
‘I take it as far back as the war,’ he said. ‘It was very, very difficult for everybody, losing so many loved ones and dealing with such horrendous circumstances, that no matter how much you could talk, you were never going to fix the issue.
‘Completely by accident, they passed that on to the next generation. We all learn from our parents, how they deal with things. So this whole generation inherited that this is how we deal with problems — we don’t talk about them. Now there’s a generation realising this is not normal and we should talk about them.’
Now, I must tread carefully here, since the Prince clearly has some knowledge of what he’s talking about.
Indeed, his brother Prince Harry revealed in 2017 that he’d sought counselling after struggling to come to terms with the death of their mother, herself one of the great public emoters of our time (‘there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded’). Presumably, he found that discussing his problems with a therapist helped him, as it has certainly helped others.
But I can’t help wondering if the modern mania for letting it all hang out may have gone too far, in this emotionally incontinent age when hiring a therapist seems to come as naturally to, say, the average Californian millionaire as visiting the hairdresser or dry cleaners.
I don’t know about you, but rich Californians have often struck me as among the maddest people on the planet (and certainly a lot madder than our buttoned-up Queen, or most of her generation of stoical Britons).
Do they go to the therapist because they’re mad — or could it be that they’re mad because they spend so much of their time lying on the therapist’s couch, dwelling on their problems and possibly dreaming up new ones? I reckon that sometimes there’s a lot to be said for keeping a stiff upper lip.
Whatever the truth, I certainly can’t agree with this week’s advice from Nice, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, which recommends that schoolchildren suffering from depression — of whom there are said to be at least 260,000, aged five to 18 — should be offered cognitive behavioural therapy via apps on smartphones and computers.
I can’t claim any special expertise, but I reckon that step one towards banishing children’s depression should be confiscating their smartphones to spare them the horrors of social media.
Meanwhile, step two should be cracking down hard on dealers in cannabis, with its proven links to psychosis and other mental health problems. And while the police are at it, they could also cheer everyone up by catching criminals, instead of merely offering counselling to victims.
Oh, and I have one more prescription for the mental health of the nation, of which I pray legislators will take heed: for God’s sake get a move on with Brexit, before you drive the whole lot of us mad!