History repeating itself. Those words were uttered several times by Prince Harry in Oprah With Meghan And Harry: A CBS Primetime Special, when talking about his greatest fear in the run-up to stepping down as a senior royal.
In so many ways, history has already repeated itself. Watching Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, talk about the darkest, loneliest moments of being part of the royal family, of feeling unsupported and helpless, you can’t help but think of another interview that took place in living memory: Princess Diana’s 1995 interview. There were strong parallels between both televised events, but what’s clear is, 26 years later, very little has changed.
Meghan told Oprah that she experienced suicidal thoughts while pregnant with her first child, Archie, and asked the royal family for assistance in getting professional help. “I just didn’t want to be alive anymore,” Meghan told Oprah. “And that was a very clear, and real, and frightening constant thought.”
The help Meghan asked for was not provided, she said. “I went to the institution and I said that I needed to go somewhere to get help, that I’d never felt this way before, and I need to go somewhere, and I was told that I couldn’t, that it wouldn’t be good for the institution,” she said. Meghan went on to say that she went to “one of the most senior people to get help” but that nothing came of those requests for support. “Nothing was ever done,” she said.
This isn’t the first time the concept of “support” has been mentioned by a royal family member living with mental health issues. During the 1995 BBC Panorama interview, Princess Diana spoke about her experience of post-natal depression, bulimia, and self-harm, and discussed the family’s reaction to her depression. “Well maybe I was the first person ever to be in this family who ever had a depression or was ever openly tearful,” she said. “And obviously that was daunting, because if you’ve never seen it before how do you support it?” Diana added that the depression “gave everybody a wonderful new label – Diana’s unstable and Diana’s mentally unbalanced. And unfortunately that seems to have stuck on and off over the years.”
Since Princess Diana’s death in 1997, the royal family has made mental health a key issue at the heart of its public outreach work. But, behind closed doors, the royal family has failed another member in her hour of need. In 2017, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, along with Prince Harry, founded Heads Together, an initiative that aims to tackle mental health stigma and get people to open up about their own mental health. There’s no doubt that Harry and William’s mother’s experiences were a huge driving force behind launching an initiative of this kind. Now that we know that someone within the royal family was experiencing suicidal ideation while pregnant and was allegedly refused help when they asked for it, though, it’ll be extremely galling to hear any member of the royal family speak about the importance of talking about mental health. It strikes me that the public message is, “we need to talk about mental health,” but behind closed doors at the palace, there is absolutely nothing to be gained by opening up about your mental wellbeing, as no support or help is offered in return.
In campaigning to break down the stigma surrounding mental health, Prince William has acknowledged just how hard it is to admit that you need help. Meghan spoke to this very problem in her interview with Oprah, but added an important caveat: “I know personally how hard it is to not just voice it, but when you voice it to be told ‘no.'”
Unless they make genuine amends in some way, future mental health campaigning by the royals will now look disingenuous at best. But critics might even go so far as to call it performative. One thing’s abundantly clear — the royals aren’t following their own advice behind closed doors. And because of that, history is repeating itself. Meghan and Harry didn’t name names in the interview, so it’s difficult to know who’s responsible for turning their back on Meghan when she needed help. But even if the younger members of the royal family knew nothing of this lack of support, they still represent the institution that, in private, fails to live up to its public image.
As Harry said in the latter half of the interview: “What I was seeing was history repeating itself, but definitely far more dangerous, but then you add race in, and you add social media in.” As a biracial woman, Meghan not only had to contend with racist trolling and headlines, she also experienced racist comments from members of the family. Questions were asked about her future child’s skin tone from one unnamed member of the royal family, and – aside from releasing Prince Harry’s 2016 statement – nothing was done by the palace to counter the racist vitriol being spewed by Britain’s tabloid media. Mashable has reached out to Buckingham Palace for comment on the topics raised in last night’s interview.
Harry detailed some of the responses he got when asking for help from the family. “This is how it is,” they told him. “We’ve all been through it.” Is there a generational gap in the understanding surrounding mental health among royal family members? Or is it just that suffering is so normalised within the royal family that it’s practically a rite of passage?
Harry said in the interview: “I just wish that we would all learn from the past.” It’s painfully clear that very little has been learned in the 24 years since Princess Diana’s death.
If you want to talk to someone or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, Crisis Text Line provides free, confidential support 24/7. Text CRISIS to 741741 to be connected to a crisis counselor. Contact the NAMI HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI, Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. ET, or email . You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Here is a list of international resources.