Sunday was a big day for the British Royal Family. And not because it was Easter and not because the Duchess of Cambridge wore a coat. The Telegraph posted a podcast in which Prince Harry was interviewed about mental health – more specifically, about his experience dealing with his own mental health issues. It was one of the most candid interviews in which a member of the RF has participated and is the perfect example of marrying one’s public duties with the personal appeal of monarchy. Basically this interview is exactly what I was gunning for when I wrote this, and what I think Kate came close to do doing when she made this speech.
Essentially, Harry spoke about his struggles to process the death of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997. He said that he repressed most of his emotion about the event, but that it eventually caught up to him in his 20s. He found himself behaving aggressively, feeling angry and not coping well with his role as a public figure and all that that entailed. He came forth and discussed that he has availed himself of counseling and that his brother, the Duke of Cambridge, was one person in his corner urging him to seek help.
Given the current focus of the Heads Together initiative, on which he works with William and Kate, to remove stigma around mental health, this is the single most powerful thing that has been done to achieve this goal. Harry, a handsome, popular and privileged member of the RF, admitting that he has had his own issues and sought help for them, goes a long way in making others feel more comfortable doing so and provides education on the issues for friends and family. After all, it’s hard to provide support for something when you don’t know and can’t see what you’re supporting.
That dilemma has been a steep hill for the issue arena to climb, but one where significant inroads have been made in the last few decades. But even today, I saw someone correct a statement from a media article on the interview which had said Harry “admitted” to counseling, whereas the corrector pointed out a far better way to have phrased it would have been to say simply that he had “stated” it. To be honest, I hadn’t even caught that when I was reading through, but it’s nuance like that which should be addressed.
Doing this interview goes a long way in the continuation of Diana’s legacy. For all of the important work she did on behalf of leprosy, HIV and landmines, she also called significant attention to depression and bulimia, from which she admitted she suffered. At the time, and even still today as ridiculous as it is, she was labelled as “unstable” by her critics, as though her point of view, anger or unhappiness could all be simply chalked up to her mental health. And no doubt a great deal of that came not from malice but from a complete lack of education or experience. How do you talk about something no one is talking about? I have a feeling that in addition to their own experiences, watching that narrative unfold may also play a large role in why William and Harry are passionate about this topic.
I’ve provided a few quotes from the interview below, but the full interview is available here.
“I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well.
“I have probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions when all sorts of grief and sort of lies and misconceptions and everything are coming to you from every angle.
“My way of dealing with it was sticking my head in the sand, refusing to ever think about my mum, because why would that help? [I thought] it’s only going to make you sad, it’s not going to bring her back. So from an emotional side, I was like ‘right, don’t ever let your emotions be part of anything’.
“So I was a typical 20, 25, 28-year-old running around going ‘life is great’, or ‘life is fine’ and that was exactly it. And then [I] started to have a few conversations and actually all of a sudden, all of this grief that I have never processed started to come to the forefront and I was like, there is actually a lot of stuff here that I need to deal with.
“It’s all about timing. And for me personally, my brother, you know, bless him, he was a huge support to me. He kept saying this is not right, this is not normal, you need to talk to [someone] about stuff, it’s OK.
“The timing wasn’t right. You need to feel it in yourself, you need to find the right person to talk to as well.”
I’d also like to include an excerpt from the write up of the interviewer, Bryony Gordon, who I wasn’t familiar with before today but has written a book about her own experiences with OCD. The entire article is well-worth a read and is linked above.
“I had no idea, when I arrived at Kensington Palace, that Prince Harry was going to be so candid. I thought that he might perhaps talk obliquely about the importance of discussing mental health, and then I would go off and tell my friends about the nice time I had sitting in the same room as the man who has been referred to as the Clown Prince.
“Instead, it was like having a cup of tea with a friend who had been through a particularly difficult time, and lived to tell the tale. He did so movingly and articulately. There was no sense that he was inviting pity. He was simply telling it like it is, like it had been. He did all of this while managing to be funny. I got the sense that Prince Harry has precious little time for those who wallow in sad music.
“I think this interview is special not because it’s a scoop or an exclusive. I don’t think this interview is special because I happened to do it. I think it is special because in Britain, we don’t talk about our feelings. We have bitten our lips, slapped on rictus grins, kept buggering on.”