Royal Corner

James Middleton's Brave Battle

The Duchess of Cambridge's brother shares his sister's passion for mental health, but his dogs have been his saving grace.

AUGUST 20th, 2020

James alongisde his dogs: Ella, Inca, Luna, Zulu and Mabel - © James Middleton/Instagram


hroughout the coronavirus pandemic many leading behavioural experts have claimed that society’s next greatest challenge will be mental health. With a lack of social, physical and emotional interaction, the feelings of isolation have been compounded with the stresses of financial uncertainty, restricted medical care and overall anxiety. As elements of the lockdown continue and local restrictions return in certain areas – depending on the rise and fall of daily cases – mental health is impacting the public more so now than ever before.

This reality – which is ominously described by the Mental Health Foundation as “the next unseen pandemic” – has been brought to the forefront by the Royal Family, specifically the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Though, whilst William and Catherine have championed numerous charities throughout the pandemic and have been keen activists in promoting good mental health long before the world was halted by coronavirus; the Duchess’ younger brother James Middleton is bravely using his own struggles with mental health to affect change.

Last year, James took an almighty leap of faith by opening up over his battle with the depression he describes as “a cancer of the mind”. In a personal and often moving account in the Daily Mail, the Duchess’ brother explained how this ‘cancer’ had robbed his confidence, joy, self-expression and purpose. With such visceral and stark confessions over how deep the depression had suffocated his thirst for life, James discussed how his family had helped bring him through.

Allowing his GP to speak with his family, whose worries had grown over numerous months, a breakthrough of some sorts had appeared in the previous January of 2018. “Bit by bit, shafts of sunlight started to penetrate the gloom.” He writes. “My family were proactive in helping me enormously – it has been an education for all of us to understand the complex nature of depression.”

These small victories enabled James to realign his outlook on life, and also embrace his ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) diagnosis, leading to a greater understanding of “my impulsiveness, energy and capacity to be distracted,” he wrote.

One element, which he highlighted as a source of both comfort and help, has since led to a new business venture, the inspiration? His dogs. Ella, Inca, Luna, Zulu and Mabel, have been an unceasing life source to the youngest Middleton. So much so, that James credits his dogs for saving him. “They were my friends, companions, teachers and therapists,” he writes on the website for his company Ella & Co.

James pictured with Ella for his article in the Daily Mail in 2019 - © Murray Sanders/Daily Mail

The business is set on a mission to provide the most nutritional and healthy food for your canine companion, and the inspiration was James’ desire to give something back to the five furry family members which brought him back from the brink. “It became my mission to discover what I could do to repay even a small percentage of what they had been able to give to me,” James describes.

Throughout his complex and often fraught journey with depression, James realised ‘this cancer of the mind’ – which has left so many others suffering at its callous and crippling hands – is constantly misunderstood. That misunderstanding is potently projected onto men, far more than women, resulting in a worrying number of statistics around male mental health.

1 in 3 men actively experience suicidal thoughts as a result of feeling stressed. In 2017, 2,281 suicides were recorded across Great Britain, 76% of those deaths were men. That percentage resulted in the staggeringly frightening statistic that 3 out of 4 suicides in the UK are by men. Though perhaps what highlights the stark reality of mental health problems experienced by males, is the realisation that depression is the largest cause of death in men under the age of 35.

So, what leads to these statistics, and why are men struggling with mental health at such an alarming rate? The Mental Health Forum have their own suggestions. The forum believes that most men do not fit within the conventional approaches to diagnosis. Effectively, they do not tick the classic boxes which define depression and other mental health issues.

The christening of Prince Louis - © Kensington Palace

It is believed, that lacking the ability or teachings to recognise and act on warning signs of a deterioration in their mental state, can lead to an unwillingness or inability to seek help from support services. A reliance on unsustainable and unsuccessful strategies to self-manage their mental health could also damage any recovery, and the attitude of “stiff upper lip” and male toxicity can also play their part. These examples are just some of the issues which The Mental Health Forum believe is causing the heart-breaking numbers.

Yet, what James acknowledges, is through the experience of debilitating depression, his knowledge on the subject has broadened. It has therefore enabled him to understand his strengths, as well as his weaknesses in greater detail, providing him with the necessary skills to fight back. Part of that fight is down to his dogs, specifically his black Cocker Spaniel, Ella. This trusting and consoling partnership eventually led to Ella becoming a fully-fledged therapy dog for the charity Pets As Therapy. Through his honest and open admittances of struggle, there has been an increase of interest in ‘Pet Therapy’, and the unique and landmark successes achieved in this area.

Of course, James holds a rare and privileged position as the brother of the Duchess of Cambridge, but much like his eldest sister and brother-in-law, he has used that unique platform to shine a light on an area which is usually shrouded in silent shame. To express your personal problems is a feat of bravery which is consistently overlooked, or in most cases downplayed. James’ experiences are no different. There will be many who will look no further than beyond the wealth, public fame and advantaged position he holds. Yet, in taking the plunge, he has proved that no amount of privilege protects from depression. It has no bias, and in turn, so should the tools offered to combat it.

Whether it be through your GP, therapy, exercise, talking with friends and family, or even the close and loving relationship with your dog; depression can be controlled, and the first step is the mantra which bestowed James Middleton with the confidence and courage to speak out: “It’s OK not to be OK.”

You can visit Ella & Co's website here.

For any additional information on depression and mental health, or if you are seeking guidance, follow the links below:

- Heads Together

- Shout

- Mind

- Young Minds

- Pets As Therapy

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