Desperate For Progress!
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article for this very publication where I heavily praised the progress we have made as a society and as a species in our treatment of mental health. It was inspired by and focused on the Britney documentary. Well, I’m back, and this time the story isn’t so uplifting.
On Sunday night (7/3) in the US, a two-hour-long interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Windsor. People were very invested in this interview, you’re probably aware of it no matter how apathetic you are towards the royal family, Harry, or Meghan. It has been almost impossible to avoid hearing about this interview, and at the time of writing this, it hasn’t even aired in the UK. This means that I have only seen clips of it, but they have been incredibly important clips.
The most important topic discussed in this interview is mental health and Meghan’s mental health in particular. This woman, daughter, sister, mother, wife, and human, sat down in front of millions and bravely spoke about the struggles she has faced with her mental health since marrying her husband.
Struggles that were almost unequivocally caused by the media and British media predominantly. Meghan presented herself as she has always done when speaking about important issues; she was composed, eloquent, and communicated exactly how she felt without an iota of malice in her tone or her words.
Meghan admits in the interview that she experienced suicidal ideations. She was bullied and smeared so relentlessly that, despite carrying a 5-month-old foetus, she wanted to end her life. I don’t know about you, but when I hear that, my heart breaks.
I personally have experienced those same ideations at various points in my life, but I always thought that if I were ever in a position where I had another human life entirely depending on me, I would not have to contend with those kinds of thoughts, that that wasn’t possible. Maybe that was naïve of me.
It is entirely terrifying that as a nation, our overwhelming response to that sort of declaration is to deride, dissect, and distrust. When we question the authenticity of someone discussing their serious mental health struggles, we are sending a message to other vulnerable people, others who are struggling, and worst of all our children that if they feel the way Meghan felt, that they have to prove it in order to be believed, and we all know where that leads.
The stigma surrounding mental health is alluded to in the interview. Meghan talks candidly about how difficult it was to open up to her husband about how she was feeling. Bear in mind that she is married to a man who is notoriously compassionate and passionate about mental health.
She felt shameful for having the thoughts that she did, she took on the weight of her husband’s previous awful losses and felt almost unable to add to that weight by sharing her load with him. It took her incredible insight to know that it would be worse to add to his loss than to add to his load.
There are many, many people who do not possess the tools and do not have the emotional support that Meghan has in her husband. It would be nice to think that this is surprising, but it isn’t, for all the mental health campaigns and national awareness days we have, this country is woefully inadequate at even acknowledging mental health issues.
The most important take away from this interview really has nothing to do with Harry or Meghan. The national response to this interview, even before it aired, is something that we should all be ashamed of. We (yes I’m using the royal ‘we’) like to assert ourselves as a progressive, developed, and civilised country. Well, we’re not. We still view declarations of mental health issues as attention-seeking, we think that if someone talks about their mental health the only motive they can have is to gain personal attention and fawning.
How can we possibly further the discussion around mental health with this deeply ingrained attitude to the subject? This issue is bigger than a 2-hour interview, bigger than one woman that a country has decided to hate for no reason. This is a giant mirror being held up to our raw, ugly, dehumanising attitude toward mental health. When Caroline Flack died a year ago, the phrase ‘be kind’ flooded social media, but nothing has been achieved.
The problems with mental health in this country are not going to be solved with sound bites and empty social media campaigns. We need to be vocal, we need to call out vacuous attempts to promote mental wellbeing, like ITV who spent millions on a mental health campaign, and then let Piers Morgan and his buddies launch a tirade of abuse towards an already fragile woman.
This article may seem angry, and it is! Change needs to happen, and it needs to start now, no one else should need to die to make people care. Compassion should not be this hard to find in a truly modern society.