A Therapist Speaks: The Real Takeaway From Oprah’s Meghan and Harry Interview
The interview of the year revealed mental issues that affect far more people than just members of the royal family.
Last weekend, thousands of people tuned in to watch Oprah interview Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, about their experiences with the British royal family, and thousands of others who attempted to skip the interview were inundated with recaps.
In the ensuing week, as people have taken to social media channels to argue about whether or not Meghan and Harry should have spoken out so candidly, and which parts of the story they believe, I have wondered whether the gravity of the interview is being lost.
My thinking: Although this was framed as, and felt like, a revealing interview about life inside the royal family, there are actually several aspects of it that are very relatable.
Many of the issues related to mental health that were brought up in the context of the interview are the same issues that affect my regular clients, who grew up regular families in regular homes.
It is these relatable parts that we need to really listen to so that we can do better.
What am I talking about?
Stigma Related to Mental Health
Meghan spoke bravely and openly about her mental health issues when living within the royal institution. She revealed that she felt she needed help but was told she couldn’t have it because of how this would reflect on the institution. Unfortunately, this kind of stigma is all too common.
I saw this most clearly when I worked in college mental health. I saw so many undergraduate students who had felt they needed help, sometimes for years, but whose parents would not get it for them, either because they did not believe in the utility of mental health services or because of how it would reflect on the family.
In college, finally independent and with affordable care through the university, they were able to get the help they needed.
Research has shown that a significant number of individuals with mental health issues do not receive care and those who do often receive it very late — in some cases even decades after the onset of the problem.
For many people, the issue is access to affordable care. But for others, the primary problem is similar to Meghan’s — stigma.
The Relationship Between Racism and Mental Health
Meghan opened up about the ways in which she was treated differently because she is biracial, including verbalized concern over how dark-skinned the couple's son would be.
Although few people know what it’s like to be discriminated against within the royal family, many unfortunately know what it is like to be discriminated against in society. The experience of racial discrimination is itself a known contributing factor to mental health issues, increasing a person’s risk for depression, anxiety, trauma, and substance abuse.
Research published in a 2018 issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, in fact, has demonstrated that racial discrimination profoundly affects mental health because it sparks feelings of being over-scrutinized and, often at the same time, overlooked, underappreciated, and misunderstood.
There are many additional ways racism affects mental health; marginalized groups are more likely to experience poverty, incarceration, and unemployment.
Although Meghan currently lives with a lot of privilege, her interview highlights how detrimental discrimination alone is to mental health.
The Toll Taken by Loneliness and Isolation
A year ago, most of us wouldn’t have been able to relate to Meghan’s description of feeling locked down within the royal institution. Now most of us can appreciate the toll loneliness and isolation can have on mental health.
Meghan discussed her struggle with suicidal thoughts. Suicidal thoughts and attempts have been associated, in research, with both objective loneliness (actually living alone) and subjective loneliness (feeling alone).
The effects of loneliness and isolation on mental health continue to be researched, particularly as we consider how to weigh the risks and benefits of ending social distancing during this next year.
The Way Family Dynamics Uniquely Affect Each Child
Over the past few years, the concept that a person’s family dynamics in childhood affect their coping strategies and mental health in adulthood has been increasingly popularized.
During the interview, Harry touched on this idea insightfully. He stated that although he and his brother had shared experiences growing up, they are different people on different paths. This is true of all siblings.
Interestingly, I have worked with many people who have a hard time accepting the ways in which certain family dynamics negatively impacted them because they did not similarly affect a sibling.
But, the truth is, despite shared experiences, each of us is a unique person, was delegated a unique role within our family, has a unique personality and coping style, and has experiences that differ outside the shared experience.
All this combined means that we should expect that family dynamics will affect different children within the same family differently. This difference does not and should not invalidate another’s experience.
Many of Us Know Someone Who Is Silently Struggling
Ultimately, what this interview highlights is that many people suffer silently (either by choice or because they are silenced by someone else). I guarantee you that most of us know someone who is struggling with mental health.
So, when you engage in a conversation with friends or on a comments section on social media, be mindful of how compassionately you approach Meghan. If you doubt or mock her struggle, you risk doubting and mocking the silent struggle of those you know, but who have not been able to open about their struggle yet.
Important: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not Everyday Health.