Opinion / by Megan Robinson
On Monday night in the UK, the Meghan and Harry interview with Oprah aired on ITV.
I expected to hear many revelations about the royal family and the way they, and the British press, have treated Meghan since she began her relationship with the prince. What I did not expect was for Meghan to be so brave and open about her mental health struggles.
Recalling a time during her first pregnancy when she contemplated suicide, she told Oprah: “I knew that if I didn’t say it, then I would do it. I just didn’t want to be alive anymore."
To hear someone of her social stature share such feelings felt shocking, even though really, it shouldn't. After all, 1 in 4 of us in the UK will be affected by a mental health issue at some point in our life – and that includes feeling suicidal.
The moment therefore was actually incredibly important. It opened up dialogue about mental health and suicidal thoughts exponentially, with social platforms and media outlets now flooded with discussion about the topic.
It felt like a truly defining moment in the fight to normalise mental health discussion. And specifically that barriers around discussing suicidal thoughts were being broken.
But then she delivered her next line, revealing exactly the issue that remains:
“I went to one of the most senior people to get help. I was told I couldn't because it wouldn't be good for the institution.”
With two short sentences, Meghan had pinpointed the exact reason why so many people don't reach out. It shone a harsh spotlight on the outdated idea that suicidal thoughts experienced by one person could impact the image of another. The notion that someone shouldn't share their thoughts through fear of casting shame on their loved ones and family. In her case, one of the most prominent families in the world.
A question of race
Meghan's account of her suicidal thoughts will resonate with millions of people who have watched the interview, and the potential positive impact it can have is huge.
They will especially resonate with black women who are, without doubt, more targeted in the media.
Meghan herself has been the target for plenty of vitriol, flecked with racist undertones, from the British press. Their consistent claims of her being “fake” and “controlling” going hand-in-hand with comparisons of her "ghetto" lifestyle with that of the "classy" Kate Middleton.
It is an experience that represents a greater problem in society for people from black, asian and minority ethnic backgrounds who face tough barriers and often feel ignored with regards to their mental health.
Data published by Rethink.org reflect this:
“Compared to white women, black women are more likely to experience a common mental illness such as anxiety disorder or depression, inequalities in wealth and living standards, bias, discrimination and racism, stigma about mental health, and they are less likely to have mental health issues identified in the criminal justice system.”
White professionals also may dismiss their concerns, or lack the ability to understand how racism can affect people of colour, and there may be stereotyping and bias that black people with mental health issues are angrier or more aggressive than their white counterparts.
Black people, and especially black women, need to be understood and an overhaul to how we provide mental health support for their communities is desperately needed.
Step one: believe them
The first step we can take is to believe them when they talk about their mental health struggles. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case for Meghan Markle.
Disclosing her mental health to the public was brave, but being in the public eye and a woman of colour has seen her targeted for over four years.
One such source of unwarranted abuse has been Piers Morgan whose rants about Meghan and columns about her “betrayal” of leaving the royal family and “breaking the Queen’s heart” have truly been disturbing in number.
He also appallingly admitted that he “does not believe” that Meghan attempted suicide – an incredibly dangerous opinion to share when presenting a morning TV show to millions of viewers.
Luckily though, it seems that actions do indeed have consequences. Twitter erupted and ITV was hit with more than 41,000 complaints. Ofcom are now investigating the incident under the “harm and offence” act, while Morgan and ITV have parted ways.
To see such support for Meghan Markle is inspiring, especially when coming from younger generations. And to see people like Morgan being held accountable for actions that could potentially cause exponential harm fills me with hope.
It is abhorrent that Meghan was denied the right support by the royal family. And yet it didn't feel at all surprising. Already living with the failings of her fame-hungry father and a rabid British tabloid press ever since she was first sighted with Harry, hearing now that her husband’s family failed to protect her when she was at her most vulnerable feels like just another par for the course experience.
But, thanks to the words she shared in the interview with Oprah, there is hope that situations like these are taken more seriously, and that we can have an honest and open dialogue about suicide, race, and mental health, without people’s feelings being invalidated or dismissed.
A tweet has been circulating in support for Meghan that neatly summarises the problem we face and the stance we need to take to be the solution:
“Meghan Markle probably isn’t going to see your negative comments saying you don’t believe that she was suicidal… but your friends and family who have been in the past will, and they’ll never come to you for help.
“Don’t be that person.”
If you are finding it hard to deal with your current mood and/or are having suicidal thoughts, please contact one of the following services:
Samaritans – for everyone
Call: 116 123
SOS Suicide of Silence – for everyone
Call: 0300 1020 505 (8am to midnight)
Papyrus – for people under 35
Call: 0800 068 41 41 (9am to midnight)
Text: 07860 039967
Shout Crisis Text Line - for everyone
Text: “SHOUT” to 85258