The candor Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, displayed while discussing suicidal ideation during Sunday night’s interview with Oprah Winfrey helped open the door for conversations about race and mental health, experts say.
Meghan revealed that she struggled with thoughts of self-harm and sought help amid tabloid headlines that she and her husband, Prince Harry, described as “character assassination.” The couple both expressed that the pressure of royal life had a harmful effect on their mental health, ultimately leading to them stepping back from their duties as senior members of the monarchy.
“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 has suffered, but I knew that if I didn’t say it, then I would do it,” Meghan told Winfrey. “I just didn’t want to be alive anymore.”
The interview was seen by more than 17 million people, according to early Nielsen data, and many praised Meghan on social media. Viewers expressed empathy while noting how her openness on the topic of suicide could help others.
“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.”
Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed psychologist and host of podcast Therapy for Black Girls, said Monday that she was particularly struck by the reaction from Black women. Meghan, whose father is white and whose mother is Black, shared moments that hit home for many women who have dealt with misogynoir, a term used to describe the intersection of sexism and anti-Black racism.
“I think people were really able to relate to, you know just how awful it feels to kind of be in situations where it feels like no matter what you do and how perfectly you can show up, it’s never enough,” Bradford said.
The couple’s explosive revelation that there were conversations among Harry’s family about how dark their children would be was a familiar pain point for many, Bradford said.
“There was something particularly resonant about the whole conversation around the worries around how dark the baby would be, because I think that is another conversation in the Black community, the idea of colorism,” Bradford said. “So the closer you are to white, the better you are treated, and I think that’s what we saw highlighted.”
Bradford said she was surprised at how much worse the couple’s situation was than what it appeared to be, but that the interview magnified the message that no one is exempt from mental illness or struggle.
“No level of privilege or resources is going to kind of add as a buffer from protecting you from those things,” she said.
Meghan’s personal story comes at a time of heightened concerns about mental health issues both in the U.S. and the U.K. Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a £79 million (about $109.3 million) support initiative to focus on youth mental health and well-being. The money comes from a fund to improve mental health services across the board.
The U.S. is also looking at mental health funding as part of its $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill, which passed the Senate on Saturday. The bill included more than $4 billion for mental health and substance use services and school-based mental health programs, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
A combination of celebrity platform and the universal trauma of a pandemic have likely contributed to the impact of Meghan’s interview statements, said Dr. Christine Crawford, associate medical director at NAMI.
“I think what has been the major tipping point was that more people now than ever before have actual firsthand experience as to what it’s like to sit with significant depression and anxiety, and to have that in the context of people talking about mental health more, especially through social media,” Crawford said. “I’m incredibly encouraged by this.”
An estimated 40 percent of U.S. adults reported struggling with some form of mental health or substance abuse issues, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report published in August. There was a threefold increase in adults reporting anxiety and four times the reports of feelings of depression compared to the same time the year before, the CDC found.
Meghan’s comments about her struggle appeared to be mindful in that she understood her words could help further normalize conversations about mental health, particularly for women of color, Crawford said.
It is important for women of color to see that even those who appear strong, successful and happy on the surface can be emotionally drained and feel that their mental health is unsupported, Crawford said.
“To see these two individuals who are highly accomplished and successful, and especially one who is revealing what they’ve been going through … to just see that on full display really just goes to show that even though you can carry the label as a strong Black woman you really have no idea as to what the truth is,” she said.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.