At the age of 27, Prince Harry came close to the brink of an emotional breakdown after years of pretending – even to himself – that everything was fine.
“All of a sudden, all of this grief that I have never processed started to come to the forefront,” the Prince told Bryony Gordon in the first episode of her Mad World podcast. “It was 20 years of not thinking about it [his mum Princess Diana’s death] and then two years of total chaos."
Eventually, after confiding in his brother, he sought professional help and turned to boxing to release the aggression that he felt building up. He is now eager for more people to talk openly about their mental health. "Once you start talking about it you suddenly you realise that actually you're part of quite a big club …” Prince Harry said.
But having that first conversation – admitting you might belong to the same club - isn’t always easy.
‘How are you?’ is the ubiquitous, throwaway, query that couldn’t be easier to answer when you are ok.
But when you are not ok, when you are stuck somewhere far darker than fine, it feels painfully loaded.
You know the expected response, ‘Fine thanks’, isn’t true. But you are reluctant to say it. You aren’t sure the person asking is ready for the truth. You aren’t sure you are ready for the truth.
Saying ‘I’m not ok’ should be easy but it isn’t.
I know this because I have been in a dark place too and for a long time I couldn’t say it.
"At the age of 25, after months of denial and living with spiralling anxiety, I had a nervous breakdown"Georgie Dent
At the age of 25, after several months of denial, living with spiralling anxiety and a worsening physical illness, the words I couldn’t say were formed for me.
I was so not ok that I had a nervous breakdown. One minute I was working as a junior lawyer at a big firm in Sydney, and the next I was spending my days on my parents’ couch in their home in northern NSW.
Give or take days here and there to see every medical/health specialist we could find, I stayed there for four months.
I was unwell – physically and mentally – and I ended up spending a fortnight in a psychiatric hospital. For me, that proved the turning point. It was the experience that made me realise I needed to address my mental health, my response to stress, my relationship with anxiety.
Without my mental health – nothing else mattered: I learned it the hard way.
I set about seeking help to make those changes and I started looking after myself. Almost a decade on, I can say with my hand on my heart that I have maintained my mental health since that time.
Some months are better than others, and there have been times when I have reached out for help, but mostly I have been fine.
At the time, it felt – to me – like my nervous breakdown happened overnight. With hindsight I realised it actually happened over 12 months.
It happened despite me having plenty of emotional support from friends and family. It happened despite me having an incredibly supportive and loving partner. It happened despite me knowing – deep down – that I wasn’t ok.
I now speak openly about my breakdown and I have done for about six years. Before that I kept it quiet: Close friends and family knew what had happened and when it came up I was honest about the experience but I kept it relatively private.
Six years ago I wrote an anonymous piece that was published and the response emboldened me enough to consider writing about it more publicly.
As soon as I did, the response was exactly as Prince Harry said: there are so many people out there either in this club already or ready to join.
Knowing that, is half the battle. If you aren’t ok, remember plenty of others aren’t either. And plenty of others who might be ok now, might not have always been ok. There is a road out from the land of “far from fine” and it’s crowded. If you are battling with mental illness, seek help. The first step will be the hardest but life is likely to get a whole lot easier once you take it.