Prince William is opening up about the mental health effects of traumatic jobs, speaking candidly about his time working for the East Anglian Air Ambulance at the This Can Happen conference in London today, according to The Daily Mail.
“I worked several times on very traumatic jobs involving children, and after I had my own children I think the relation between the job and the personal life was what really took me over the edge, and I started feeling things that I have never felt before,” he shared. “Talking was really important, but even that wasn’t quite enough for one particular incident for me… I got very sad and very down about this particular family.”
He also said that speaking with co-workers helped him out, and mentioned that he was fortunate to have worked for the air ambulance service and the Royal Air Force. He reportedly said that speaking about the situation with co-workers made it easier for him to “come to terms with the enormous sadness.”
“Just as we look after our physical health, we need to look after our mental health,” he added.
Many in the British royal family have been increasingly open about mental health. While Prince Harry has publicly weighed in on mental health topics before — including the death of his mother, Princess Diana — Prince William has also taken to speaking just as candidly.
Donna Rockwell, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, talked to Thrive about the mental health effects of treacherous experiences on the job.
“Oftentimes when we are in similar experiences to the original trauma, our physiology can become reactivated, and we become re-traumatized. Reminders tend to neurologically trigger our emotional responses which can then cascade,” Rockwell says.
If you have a job like Prince William’s work with the Air Ambulance service, in which you bear witness to traumatic circumstances (such as a police officer or a paramedic), any time you experience something similar, you run the risk of being re-traumatized. Prince William’s comments emphasize the importance of taking care of your mental health in jobs like these — although everyone can benefit from more and better attention to their mental well-being. Here, a few steps for how you can attend to your mental health.
Zero in on your breath
“To combat work-related stress and anxiety, it is important to gain a sense of mastery over life situations, rather than being swept up in the emotional overload that can often happen,” Rockwell emphasizes. “This can be achieved by calmly focusing on the breath. Feel yourself inhale, and then gently exhale. This will bring you back into the present moment.” Focusing on the present, rather than on another stressful moment that you can’t help but re-live, can encourage you to re-gain a sense of calm. “When we focus on the breath, the amygdala calms down, and the prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain for reasoning and executive functioning — comes back online,” Rockwell says. “This is how we gain mastery over stress and anxiety.”
Start a dialogue
Prince William is right when he says that talking about what you’ve experienced is enormously helpful. “Talking about your problems helps you make sense of them, which is an important piece of moving on,” says Avi Klein, L.C.S.W. “Take time to feel sad about these things with someone else instead of keeping it inside.” Talking to someone — a co-worker, a therapist, a loved one — reminds you that people care about you, which is important when you’ve experienced something traumatic and feel isolated and alone.
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