Dr Lucy Wheen, Lead Clinician for Bryn Melyn Care writes a personal account of her visit to Buckingham Place on World Mental Health Day on 10th October, giving us a sense of the mounting excitement, as the Master of the Household announced the presence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Henry. Lucy gives us a heart-warming feel of the joyousness of the occasion and the special people she met, helping to change the conversation around mental health.
It is not every day that you receive a personal invitation from Her Majesty the Queen to visit Buckingham Palace so when I opened a rather official looking envelop to reveal the thick white gold-edged card invitation I was shocked. The invitation informed me that I was invited to a reception to recognise the contribution of those working in Mental Health Care and aptly was on World Mental Health Day.
I could only assume that the invitation had been sent due to Bryn Melyn Care’s success at the Welsh Care Awards last year. The initial excitement was only tainted by the fact that I would not be joined by my fantastic colleagues who work so hard to build our specialist mental health service. Saddened too by the fact that the young people we care for would not get to share this experience. However, I was also delighted to represent Bryn Melyn Care in the Royal recognition of the work we do.
The 10th of October arrived and I stood before Buckingham Palace amongst the regular crowds of tourists and stared at the grandeur of the building ahead. Despite a niggling doubt in the back of my mind that this was indeed a cruel joke, I stepped out of the crowd and towards the guards at a small gate opening into the vast Palace courtyard. The guard welcomed me and asked for my invitation and photo ID of which I proudly handed over both. Little did I know that in the weeks previous a comprehensive background check had already been carried out. And that was it…. I was through the gate and walking towards the main building amidst a small stream of fellow guests in their finery. I aimed for the tall columned entrance where I got my first glimpse of the opulent interior.
As I stepped into the Palace I was greeted by a number of smartly dressed stewards, guided to the cloakroom and then to the ladies toilets. The WC would be more aptly called a ladies powder room, given the thick carpets, dressing table, and mirrors that furnished it. The toilet stalls gave a small insight into the history of the building with dark wooden clad seating and the cotton handtowels had the soft feel of luxury.
After a comfort stop, I was again directed by the ever attentive butlers, through the entrance hall to face the most impressive stairway I have ever seen…..The Grand Staircase.
The stairs towered before me, draped in rich red carpet, gold runners and wonderful dark wood handrails. The stairs parted to the right and left to reveal a balcony landing. I entered the first reception room to be handed my official badge which confirmed that I was indeed representing Bryn Melyn Care at this wonderful event. I followed a growing number of guests into the main reception hall to find waiting staff on hand with champagne and soft drinks. Joining the gathering it was soon apparent that they were a group of inspirational and like-minded people. There was a sense of excitement as we waited for the order of the evening to be announced.
It is hard to describe the interior as anything other than palatial. Marble and gold galore, thick velvet fabrics, exquisite furniture, portraits, statues, amazing fireplaces and crystal chandeliers everywhere I looked. The high ceilings and vast rooms easily held the 300 or so guests who were busy taking in the surroundings. Conversations were littered with murmurs of “I’m still taking this all in” and “isn’t this amazing”. As the drinks were poured and guests settled we caught glimpses of the royal trio in the adjoining room, meeting a select few guests. The chatter stopped dead as the Master of the Household announced the presence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Henry.
The Duke of Cambridge gave an inspiring speech thanking the guests for their contributions to mental health care in the UK and talking about the work Catherine, Harry and him had undertaken. The Duke then welcomed Stephen Fry to the podium and a round of applause ensued. Stephen spoke of the great progress made in reducing the stigma around mental health and the extraordinary achievement of the current generation of the royal family in helping to bring these issues into mainstream conversations. Remaining light-hearted Stephen made reference to his own struggles and to the ‘psychiatrist in the room’ making him somewhat cautious. His heartfelt speech ended in a declaration of pride at the passion and support that both he and the royal trio offer to the mental health community.
The three royals then divided amongst the room to meet and greet the guests. This was when the conversations began to flow. Whilst I was not quite lucky enough to speak directly to the Royals I did get to meet lots of inspiring people that evening. Ruby Wax was eager to hear of the mindfulness workshops we have offered at BMC in efforts to look after our own mental health in the workplace. A representative of the Royal College of Physicians and I spoke about concerns over access to mental health care. I met professionals doing amazing work in Mind, YoungMinds, Hafal, Citizens Advice Bureau and those offering online/digital therapies. People working with homeless, war veterans, social workers, volunteers and individuals acknowledging their own struggles with mental health were all mixing amongst the delightfully presented canapes, crystal chandeliers and gold leaf arches. The crowd was littered with some more familiar faces such as Professor Green, Angela Rippon, and Esther Rantzen to name a few.
As the throng of conversation reduced and the Royals retired ‘behind scenes’ the ever polite waiting staff began guiding guests back down the palatial staircase to retrieve our belongings and draw the evening to a close. As I walked back across the courtyard I began grounding myself back to reality. I took in the tranquillity of the gravelled yard as small numbers of well-heeled guests also savoured their last few moments of the experience. There were murmurings of ‘was that real’ did we really just do that’ and ‘how do you top a night after drinks at Buckingham Palace.’ Then as easily as my night had started I simply stepped back through the small Iron Gate facing the Victoria memorial, said a cheery goodnight to the guard and started my journey back to Shropshire.
As I walked back to the underground station and reflected on my experience my thoughts came back to World Mental Health Day and what such an occasion means to me. Mental Health is something that we all have which can be positive or cause us problems. Whether we are ‘coping’ or ‘battling’, experiencing ‘severe’ or ‘mild’ problems, whether they are ‘enduring’ or ‘short-lived’, the common theme is that at some time in all our lives we are likely to need support or offer support to others. I was reminded that it is connecting with others, accepting someone else’s experience with empathy and without judgement that can make a difference. At Bryn Melyn Care we strive to build meaningful connections and positive relationships not only with the young people we care for but colleagues and peers. As human beings, we can cause one another so much pain but we can also bring comfort and joy through the connections we make. That evening I had experienced the joy of a special evening in special surroundings with special people.