One of the most emotional moments in Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s Sunday interview with Oprah was when Meghan spoke about the suicidal thoughts she had during her pregnancy with Archie.
“Look, I was really ashamed to say it at the time and ashamed to have to admit it to Harry, especially knowing how much loss he has suffered, but I knew I would if I did wouldn’t say do it, ”Meghan said to Oprah. “I just didn’t want to be alive anymore.”
Meghan explained that the relentless, negative media coverage of her – and the palace’s unwillingness to refute false stories – caused her distress. She also said that her request for psychiatric care was denied by the royal family; When she went to the palace personnel department, she was told that she could not help her because she was not a paid employee.
Meghan’s report paints a grim picture of royal life and explains the effects of the harmful and racist tabloids in Britain. But her story is also about resilience, helping to remove the stigma and create greater awareness of mental health issues.
To learn more about the ramifications of Meghan’s story, I spoke to Elana Newman, a professor of psychology at the University of Tulsa, and the director of research at the Darts Center for Journalism and Trauma, a Columbia University project that trains journalists on how reports of trauma, mental illness and conflict.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
What were your first thoughts on the interview and Meghan Markle’s admission that she had suicidal thoughts and was actively seeking therapy?
I see it as powerful and brave. Addressing the stigma of suicidal thoughts is incredible because it is very important to speak about it publicly. The interview can stimulate this dialogue.
Some people have such shame and keep it a secret. The fact that Meghan said she sought help and then thwarted it also raises the question of how we need to improve services and access to mental health resources for suicides.
I don’t actually know, but I would be curious about suicide hotlines being used as an answer today.
Do we often see demonstrable effects when a celebrity talks about living with trauma?
I think Megan Markle, who talks about suicide, has an incredible cultural impact. The same was true of Princess Diana and her eating disorder problems; that also broke through a lot of stigma.
There is much suspicion, stereotyping, shunning, and avoidance by those affected, including family members whose loved ones have died from suicide. It’s something people are uncomfortable with and that’s why they don’t want to talk about it. This cultural milieu prevents people in need of help from seeking it, and Meghan’s interview can be very helpful in empowering people to do so.
Meghan has spoken about being abused by the media and the Oprah interview means there is more coverage of her and very serious and sensitive issues. The Dart Center trains journalists to speak to people who have trauma and how to write these stories accurately and sensitively. Have you seen how this type of coverage has improved?
There is certainly more conversation going on about how the press is now framing the trauma. For example, people change their minds about how you interview rape survivors, and people think about the ethical issues and informed consent. When it comes to suicide reporting in particular, this means dedicating resources and not focusing on the details.
In the 20 years I’ve been doing this work, I think there is more dialogue. People report more innovatively even as they get close to these stories.
For example, say, “How do we see this?” instead of going through the bloody details about suicide. “How will this dialogue improve the conversation?” and “What are the next steps?” are questions we should ask.
What are the next steps?
The next steps here are to continue educating people about the myths about suicide. There’s also a conversation going on about improving accessibility. I mean, if a princess asked for help and couldn’t get help, what does that say about access to mental health care? For me that’s a real question.
What does this say about our own system in the US? Can you imagine what if it is a stigmatized illness, if you feel sick and it is difficult to get help? Imagine the energy it takes to ask for help and then deny it.
“If a princess asked for help and couldn’t get help, what does that say about access to mental health care?”
I think it’s about how the conversation we should be having is about inequality. Meghan Markle is a princess and has many resources, and she was still struggling to get help. People in poverty or without health insurance do not have these resources and the story is radically different for them.
That’s the story there. What do we have to do to change that? What are the next steps? Because this indicates when a princess cannot get services, what about the rest of us? And what does a society need to improve access to psychiatric care?
In the interview, Harry and Meghan speak positively about therapy. That seems really big too.
We have these questions and the stigma about treatments for blood pressure, for diabetes, or for not [other] Complaints. Mental health problems are and should be the same. I think the other, more radical problem for me is the entire problem that health care and mental health are related to your employment.
I was asked this question as a citizen. Here is someone who goes to their place of work, which they don’t [formally or technically] her job, but she worked for her. And they say that since you are unemployed you will not get any benefits.
We need to look at how we are helping all citizens of our nation maintain mental health and receive effective treatment.