LONDON — Prince William, who has long spoken publicly about his emotional struggles, has taken his campaign for mental health awareness to Davos, Switzerland, urging global leaders to help break the stigma.
Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, who is second in line to the British throne, spoke candidly on Wednesday about the difficulty he faced in trying to get celebrities to sign on to his cause, revealing — without naming names — that not one had initially offered to join the mental health campaign that he has run since 2016 with his wife and his brother.
It was only once they went public with their Heads Together campaign and “people realized that Catherine, Harry and I put our necks on the line here,” he said, that well-known names began supporting the effort. Its advocates now include the actress Judi Dench.
At the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos, Prince William interviewed David Attenborough, the film producer of nature programs and a respected voice on climate change, on Monday. But he also spoke of the silence about mental health that was common in his parents’ and grandparents’ generations, and he called for people to be more open about their emotions.
The duke, whose grandmother Queen Elizabeth II trained as a driver and mechanic during World War II, said the war had been so devastating that many people who had lived through it decided that keeping quiet about the traumas was the best way to deal with them. In many cases that stoicism was passed down to their children and grandchildren.
“You know, we all learn from our parents; we all learn from how they deal with things,” William said, adding that a whole generation had inherited the attitude that the way to deal with problems was not to talk about them.
Now is the time to break that pattern, he added, saying: “We should talk about it, and we should get over it.”
To hear a member of the British royal family publicly discuss personal struggles with mental health was once unthinkable. But in 2017, Prince William’s brother, Harry, opened up about the emotional struggle he faced after the death of their mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, and about seeking counseling.
“Some of the best people or easiest people to speak to is a shrink or whoever — the Americans call them shrinks — someone you have never met before,” Harry said on a podcast in 2017.
Prince William, who had encouraged his brother, now the Duke of Sussex, to seek help after struggling with their mother’s death, said he had also struggled with mental health, during the two years he served as an air ambulance pilot. “I was dealing with a lot of trauma on a day-in, day-out basis,” he said in Davos on Wednesday. “We are all embarrassed by emotions. British people particularly — we are very embarrassed about revealing our emotions.”
Since 2008, the National Health Service has worked to extend the scope of talk therapy. The duke’s campaign has been credited with encouraging Britons to turn to the therapy for treatment.
Still, recent statistics showed that antidepressants were the fastest-growing prescription drugs. In England, the number of antidepressants dispensed more than doubled from 2006 to 2016, to 64.7 million, according to NHS Digital.
Critics of Prime Minister Theresa May’s government have said that funding cuts to some mental health services have cast doubt on its commitment to treat mental health on parity with physical health.
Last year, the British government appointed a minister to deal with loneliness, which affects more than nine million people in the country.
At Davos, Prince William appeared on the same panel as Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, who said that addressing mental health issues was a moral and economic imperative — one that affects productivity. She urged the business world to take on the issue.
To Ms. Ardern, whose progressive politics have drawn international attention, it was also a personal one, as she leads a country dealing with high depression and suicide rates. “I’ve lost friends, and I wouldn’t have to look far in my cabinet to find others who have as well,” she said.