Trigger warning- depression, anxiety, suicide.
Well then. Have you seen it yet? THAT interview? The one that the World and its grandmother seems to be talking about? The one between the actress, war veteran and philanthropist? Otherwise known as talk show host Oprah Winfrey and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
I am not a royalist. I don’t feel that as a British citizen I should be indebted to an institution, which although embedded within our national history and identity, holds no relevance to my actual life. Saying this, I don’t overly dislike them either. Consider me Switzerland, happily neutral.
When the Duke and Duchess of Sussex chose to stand down from their royal duties, I didn’t really give it much thought. I admired them a little I suppose. Without knowing much about their personal troubles, I just saw a mother and father choosing to step away from something which clearly wasn’t bringing them happiness. I understand it’s a little deeper and more complicated than that. But on the surface, that is what it comes down to. And who would I be, a mere British citizen whose entire understanding of the royal family is based on The Crown, to judge them for it?
I watched the interview and like many people, was shocked by the revelations it held. However, this is not what I want to address. Many people have commented on the interview, and it has enough shocking content to be written about for years to come. What I am more hurt and frankly frightened by is the reaction by us, the British people, concerning the Duchess of Sussex’s mental health. Meghan bravely admitted to struggling severely with her mental health, including that she had suicidal thoughts. She told Oprah that she “didn’t want to be alive anymore.” From reading articles, social media posts, and watching British morning breakfast television, I have seen and heard all of the following responses.
“Well, do we believe her?”
“I don’t believe a word of it”
“Another attempt for sympathy, how pathetic”
“Where is the evidence of any of this actually happening?”
Mental health issues are still seen as things which need justification. Validation. To be properly confirmed and proved before sympathy can be issued. This is unbelievably harmful and is a reason many people choose to not speak about their mental health. Imagine struggling with something so horrible, so personal, only to find yourself having to convince people to believe that those struggles are real. People who may be struggling right now are watching a woman being torn apart by the British public and press for admitting that she no longer wanted to live. We’re not talking that she was a bit upset, or lonely, or struggling to adapt to a new way of life. Meghan Markle wanted to die. She wanted to leave her loved ones behind because she couldn’t cope anymore. And the fact that this should be in any way questioned for its legitimacy is disgusting.
When Caroline Flack tragically took her own life in February 2020, my social media feeds were full of sympathy. “Be kind”, people would say, “you never know what someone is going through.” People are full of empathy and sorrow, which is often the case after a mental health tragedy. But what about now? What about when a woman is openly speaking of her suicidal thoughts. What I have seen and read will be a mere fraction of the comments made about the legitimacy of Meghan’s experiences. And it has to stop.
If someone had a broken bone, it would be treated immediately. Imagine the scenario of people surrounding you, lying on the floor in writhing pain and then being told, “right, before we help you in any way, we need to just check that your leg is actually broken, and that you need our help. This could just be for attention.” In this time, the pain is growing, becoming unbearable. You start to wish you had just tried to help yourself, instead of reaching out to others who seem to hold enough power to determine whether your pain is legitimate enough to be treated. This is true for thousands of mental health sufferers. And what’s worse, it has a domino effect. If someone hears or sees poor treatment of someone’s mental health, it will inevitably make them less likely to ask for help. If someone is called selfish, or attention-seeking, or a liar, then a silent sufferer will stay silent, out of fear of receiving the same treatment. The aftermath of the Meghan and Harry interview is doing this on a catastrophic scale.
We will find ourselves inundated in a mental-health pandemic within the next few years. COVID-19 has brought trauma, isolation, and grief in horrifying amounts, and it is more important than ever that mental-health is taken seriously.
So, whether you are a royalist or not, whether you believe Meghan and Harry or not, do not belittle mental health claims. If you find out someone is suffering, don’t let your first instinct be, “do I believe them”, but instead think about what you can do. The consequences otherwise can be devastating, and we all need to do better.
Matt Haig’s Instagram Account- https://www.instagram.com/mattzhaig/