In an unprecedented conversation for the royal family, Prince Harry opened up about his mental health struggles to help break the stigma attached to discussing these issues. In an interview with The Telegraph's Bryony Gordon for her podcast, Mad World, the prince told Gordon of the serious effect his mother's death had on his mental well-being and how the scrutiny of the public eye compounded these feelings. While for a long time he pushed these issues aside, he has put himself in a better place with the help of mental health counselors and therapeutic boxing. By telling his story, he hopes others will be inspired to seek the care they need, and that's not the only action he's taking to make a change.
Gordon's Mad World podcast features interviews with high-profile guests about their mental health experiences. It provided a platform for Prince Harry to open up about some trying times in his life and how these periods impacted his mental health. While members of the royal family have started speaking out about mental health awareness in recent years, Harry's interview is significant in that he spoke about his personal experience. When his mother, Princess Diana, passed away, he was only 12 years old, and in the interview, he described spending most of his youth trying put his mother and the accident out of mind.
“I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well,” the prince said. "I have probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions when all sorts of grief and sort of lies and misconceptions and everything are coming to you from every angle.”
Luckily, he realized it was important to confront his past and address his mental state. These days, he's doing well, and therapy and exercise have played a big role. When asked about seeing a professional, his answer was encouraging. “I’ve done that a couple of times, more than a couple of times," he said. "but it’s great.”
The candid interview is part of a bigger movement on the part of the royal family to break the social stigma around mental health. Prince Harry, along with his brother, Prince William, and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, have started Heads Together, a charity that promotes mental health awareness and wellbeing. On the organization's website, the cause is described:
Harry was inspired to put a focus on mental health during his time in Afghanistan, where he worked in a personnel recovery unit. There, he heard the stories of injured servicemen and women on mental health issues, and their openness changed his perspective. "I know there is huge merit in talking about your issues and the only thing about keeping it quiet is that it’s only ever going to make it worse,” he said. When he neared the end of his 20s and started to sense he might need help, his time in Afghanistan helped him realize it was OK to have an open conversation and lean on others.
Often, starting the conversation is the most difficult hurdle in tackling mental health. Heads Together is a way for the prince to show his gratitude to those who helped in his recovery, and to make it easier for others who may be struggling to come out and seek help.
“Because of the process I have been through over the past two and a half years, I've now been able to take my work seriously, been able to take my private life seriously as well," he said, explaining why he chose to share a personal story. "And been able to put blood, sweat and tears into the things that really make a difference and things that I think will make a difference to everybody else.”
It took guts for the royal to be this open, but his struggle is sure to resonate with listeners and royal family followers. While they haven't shared personal stories like Harry, Kate Middleton and Prince William are equally passionate advocates of mental health awareness: Middleton became a spokesperson for child mental health care, bringing the issue into the public's eye; Prince William delivered a powerful speech to the Guild of Health Writers in February to warn against the taboo on mental health.
The Heads Together charity partners with many other groups which promote mental health awareness and wellness, and together these groups are doing important work to break the stigma. From the personal resonance of the Prince Harry's story to the empowering speeches from Middleton and Prince William, the royal family is doing their part to change mental health policy and perception for the better.