The Duke of Cambridge has warned of the unexpected dangers of calling front line NHS workers “heroes”, saying it could leave a legacy of “broken” staff who feel they cannot reach out for help.
Duke, who has been hearing from frontline medics throughout the coronavirus lockdown, said the nation should be “very careful” with the well-meaning language used to praise hospital staff, so they did not accidentally hand them a “burden”.
Comparing the work to battle Covid-19 with soldiers fighting in a war, he said the label of “hero” could leave some feeling unable to admit they are struggling and seek help.
Speaking on the BBC ahead of a documentary about mental health, he said they should “rightly be hailed as superstars”, but only if it did not make them feel they"have to be this strong pillar of strength".
The Duke and Duchess have held video calls with hospital staff, care workers and - before lockdown - visited NHS 111 call handlers to hear of the strain on their mental health and how they are being supported.
They have already launched the Our Frontline initiative, a text crisis line to provide round-the-clock mental health support for key workers.
In a clip shown on The One Show, the Duke said: "We made the NHS frontline staff, rightly, heroes.
"But in doing so, we once again, give them the burden that we gave our soldiers fighting in the war, where everyone was so grateful and wanted to show their appreciation as to their fighting for their freedoms and everything.
"And I think we've got to be very careful with the language that we use.
"They should rightly be hailed as superstars, and brave, and wonderful staff; but I'm very conscious from a mental health point of view that we don't alienate some of them.
"Where they feel that once they have this hero tag, they can no longer shake that, and therefore they can't ask for support, they have to be this strong pillar of strength, when in actual fact what we need them to be is examples of positive mental health.
"Doing the job, beating this pandemic, helping and caring for so many people, but also looking after themselves so that they come through this in one piece and we're not having broken NHS staff all over the country."
The Duke also said there needs to be wider mental health support for the country as the "scary" global pandemic had left many "anxious and uncertain". He called on communities to "plug the gaps" where hospitals do not have a good support networks for their staff.
The Duke's comments were recorded during filming for a documentary about men’s mental health, using the medium of football to encourage conversations.
Launching Our Frontline in April, the Duke and Duchess said supporting the mental health of key workers was their “top priority”.
“Every day they confront traumatic situations at the same time as having to contend with their own worries about the risks to themselves and their families,” said the Duke.
“That takes a real toll, and as I’ve seen for myself through my work with the Air Ambulance, without the right support at the right time the challenges they face will only be greater.”
Football, Prince William And Our Mental Health will be broadcast on Thursday at 8.05pm on BBC One.