“I just didn't want to be alive anymore.” That was just one of the many raw admissions Meghan Markle made during her and Prince Harry’s tell-all with Oprah this week. The interview—which was met with both praise and criticism—has opened up one of the most important global conversations around mental health we’ve ever seen, and thanks to Meghan’s candid and open dialogue surrounding her own personal struggles, we can finally begin to dismantle the shame that’s still associated with speaking out.
Whether you love or hate Meghan, even the most disagreeing of viewers have to wonder where particular voices within the royal family are right now, and call into question their decisions to remain silent, because that deafening silence is starting to tell an incredibly disappointing story.
For the last decade, Kate Middleton and Prince William have made it their mission to champion mental health, with their foundation Heads Together raising millions and sparking important conversations, not just in the U.K., but across the world. So, when an opportunity was presented to make real, life-altering change to stand in support of seeking mental health help, their voices were nowhere to be heard—which is even more discouraging when you factor in exactly why the charity was founded, to “ensure that people feel comfortable with their everyday mental wellbeing and to give people the tools and information to support friends and family through difficult times.”
It begs the question if sitting idly by while such an important conversation is happening, is a decision that puts the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the wrong side of history.
During the interview, Meghan explained to Oprah that she went to the Institution to seek help, revealing she was struggling while pregnant with Archie and under attack from the U.K. press, adding she even sought help for suicidal ideation: "Nothing was ever done."
"Look, I was really ashamed to say it at the time and ashamed to have to admit it, to Harry especially, because I know how much loss he's suffered,” she revealed. “But I knew that if I didn't say it that I would do it—and I just didn't want to be alive anymore. And that was a very clear and real and frightening constant thought.
“And I remember how [Harry] just cradled me and I was, I went to the institution and said that I needed to go somewhere to get help, said that I've never felt this way before and I need to go somewhere, and they said I couldn't, that it wouldn't be good for the institution.”
It’s a candid confession, and one that would not have been easy to make on the world stage, but Meghan has once again shown us that her voice—one that has been continuously tarnished, as she says, for simply ‘breathing’—is one that no one can deny is making a difference, creating a wider dialogue for others struggling with their own mental health issues.
Considering the pandemic has meant that, for most of us, our mental health is far more fragile than ever before, having high-profile people like Meghan Markle choose to openly and candidly share their personal experiences encourages the masses to adopt an open discourse, one that has the potential to destigmatise mental health for good.
“On a very serious note, Meghan Markle did a huge service tonight,” one Twitter user wrote. “She openly talked about suicide and suicidal ideation. A lot of us have been in that very dark place (i know I have). She made it ok to openly talk about it without shame and to get help.”
It’s not just the royal family’s seeming lack of concern for Meghan’s mental wellbeing that needs to be addressed either, but the rising commentary from many online that continues to claim she’s just making it all up or that it couldn’t have been that bad. That negative narrative was so loud it’s been hard to ignore, with mental health charity Mind releasing a statement to draw attention to its harm: “It’s vital that when people reach out for support or share their experiences of ill mental health that they are treated with dignity, respect and empathy.”
But, for once those public comments claiming Meghan is lying or those that chose to just simply not believe her (Piers Morgan) have brought global attention to why people choose not to speak out about mental health in the first place. It looks like the narrative is beginning to change, with Morgan forced to step down from his high-profile position following his damaging comments.
The sentiment was best summed up by writer Elena Cresci in a now-viral Tweet: “Meghan’s not going to see you tweeting you don’t believe she was suicidal - but your friends who have been suicidal will.”
But while Meghan speaking out will undoubtedly help countless others, imagine for a second just how powerful it could have been if Kate and William chose to use their platform to discuss the importance of mental health, to dissect why some still feel ashamed to come forward, or how if the tools and resources they so regularly speak about were offered up to a member of their own, how much further the conversation could have been pushed.
Meghan seemed aware of just how powerful her comments would be for those watching. "I share this because there's so many people who are afraid to voice that they need help," she said. "And I know personally how hard it is to—not just hard it is but when your voice is silenced, to be told no… This was emails, begging for help, saying very specifically I am concerned for my mental welfare… Nothing was ever done. So we had to find a solution."
The royal family missed its opportunity to be included in this conversation, one it claims to be at the forefront of, and it will leave a permanent stain—especially considering how things have changed over the past 12 months. Perhaps if they had been willing to address the struggles of their own, or learnt from past mistakes, they might have had the chance to become part of the change we need to see in the mental health space. Instead, they actively chose to be left behind.
If you or anyone you know needs help or advice, please call Lifeline (131 114) or Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636). If you need help immediately, please call 000.