This Hat Blogs: Mental Health and Meghan Markle

Mental Health and Megan Markle

Author: Georgina Carson

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s tell-all interview with Oprah was viewed by 50 million people globally in its premiering two days. The discussion touched upon several controversial topics, including racism, bullying and mental health. Meghan revealed there were royal concerns about the skin colour of her unborn child. She discussed the role of the UK press in vilifying her, along with the Palace’s compliance in “perpetuating falsehoods”. Finally, the Duchess disclosed that she has experienced severe mental health concerns and suicidal thoughts, commenting: “I just didn’t want to be alive anymore”.
Irrespective of the view count, this interview holds a great deal of power and promise. Investigations have already been launched into allegations made and it has got the world talking. As I listened to the words being spoken, accompanied by the visuals of the couple now and over the last few years, three main themes struck me regarding mental health; appearance versus reality; maintaining face as part of your job; the power of speaking out.



Appearance versus reality 

During Oprah with Meghan and Harry, the Duchess explains that the beauty of their Australia tour in 2019 made everything appear fine when really “there was pain there”. Later on, Harry makes a similar remark about illusions when his happiness in previous years is questioned: “Enjoying the life because there were photographs of me smiling while I was shaking hands and meeting people? … That’s what’s expected … You wipe your tears away, shake off whatever you’re thinking about and you have got be on your A-game”.

The conception of someone being happy because they appear so is archaic. There are countless photographs of people smiling who have gone on to take their own life days later. In fact, the term “smiling depression” has been coined to describe an individual who is struggling with the mental health condition internally whilst appearing happy or content externally. Particularly in the age of social media, it is concerning that someone being seen to be happy can be so easily conflated with knowing them to be happy.

 Halfway through the interview, Meghan provides a poignant and shocking example of this. A photograph of her and Harry at the Royal Albert Hall in 2019 was sent to her by a friend because they looked so good. In fact, Meghan recounts how she had shared her suicidal thoughts with her husband only earlier that day and can only see how tightly he is gripping her hand in the picture. She explains, “You can see the whites of our knuckles, because we are smiling and doing our job but we’re both just trying to hold on”.

Maintaining face as part of your job

Meghan and Harry frequently reference their jobs and duties required as members of the royal family to Oprah. On appearing happy to the public, Harry remarks, “That’s a part of the job. That’s a part of the role. That’s what’s expected.” He outlines feeling required to compartmentalise his personal feelings from his professional and public image, which Meghan corroborates and explains it was even an explicit requirement of the royal role.
 This notion of separating the personal and professional self is widespread in society. In some situations it may be appropriate, such as refraining from engaging in a politically charged debate or sparing your colleagues the intimacies of your dating life. However, a by-product of this can be the masking of thoughts, feelings, and even health concerns, due to the fear of being perceived as lesser or weaker.
 Companies across the globe are increasing their engagement efforts with the topic of mental health. This ranges from giving employees additional days off or budgets for wellbeing to partaking in national campaigns such as ‘Time to Talk Day’ last month. While conversations about mental health in the workplace are still limited, topical catalysts for change include Covid-19 and the consequent “burnout pandemic”, with high-profile individuals leading by example. Whether the latter refers to the CEO of a FTSE 500 company, an Instagram influencer or a member of the British royal family is extraneous.


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The power of speaking out 

 Meghan even describes seeking help from Human Resources, as one would do in a corporate environment, only to be told that she did not qualify for the support of a paid employee. This will be an important but discouraging learning for many, simultaneously representing an example of someone finding the courage to ask for help and a warning of how this can still not be enough. Nonetheless, the outreach by the couple internally to the institution and now externally to the world demonstrates their commitment to their own mental health and will no doubt help shift the narrative going forwards.

However, both Harry and Meghan use the word “ashamed” when describing their initial feelings around her mental health specifically. This was surprising to hear, particularly from Harry who has been such an advocate for mental health. Despite his own openness about the impact of his mother’s death and support of his brother and sister-in-law’s initiative Heads Together, his reaction underlines the continued  negative attitudes surrounding mental health as a taboo subject Importantly though he now sits next to his wife in support and further admits his own struggles (“It was desperate … I went to a very dark place as well … I was terrified”).

There is immense power in talking openly about mental health. It can help others to understand their own experiences. It can increase funding for charities and initiatives. It can continue to chip away at the historical barriers to acceptance of mental health in its entirety. Questions about the veracity of Meghan’s experiences, such those created as by Piers Morgan, threaten the whole potency of speaking out. However, the subsequent public backlash and resignation of Piers Morgan from ‘Good Morning Britain’ indicates progress for the nation as a whole. 

It’s okay to not be okay


In 2019, around the time of her suicidal ideations, Meghan took part in another famous interview where she candidly told a reporter she was not okay, and thanked him for asking “because not many people have asked if I am okay”. In the conversation she also touched upon a critical concept which is important to reflect on and remember as we look beyond these interviews: “It’s not enough to just survive something, right? That’s not the point of life. You’ve got to thrive. You’ve got to feel happy”. Whether you are currently thriving or just surviving, if you take anything from this article, I hope it is to remember that not every smile indicates happiness and that it is okay to not be okay.