Meghan Markle spoke candidly about mental health in bombshell interview. Experts say impact 'could be huge'

·5 min read

Oprah Winfrey's highly anticipated interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle aired on Sunday night. And while there were plenty of bombshells dropped, one, in particular, has mental health experts talking: Markle said she felt suicidal.

Markle, 39, repeatedly said she was "ashamed" when she realized she was struggling with mental health while the couple still lived in the U.K. "I was ashamed to say it at the time and ashamed to have to admit it to Harry," she said, noting that she was pregnant with the couple’s son Archie at the time. “But I knew that if I didn't say it, then I would do it. I just didn't want to be alive anymore."

The Duchess of Sussex said that her suicidal thoughts were "clear and real and frightening."

Markle opened up about going to see a performance at the Royal Albert Hall in January 2019 and how she and her husband had a discussion beforehand about whether she should go. "I said, 'I can't be left alone,'" Markle said, implying that she was scared she would have acted on her suicidal thoughts.

Markle recalled how a friend sent her a snapshot from the evening, noting how gorgeous she looked, while Markle only saw how much she was struggling. She pointed out that you can even see in the photos how hard Harry is holding her hand. "We're both just trying to hold on," she said. Markle also remembered "weeping" during the performance and having to cover her tears when the lights would come back on.

Photo by: KGC-375/STAR MAX/IPx 2019 1/16/19 Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex and Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex at the premiere of Cirque du Soleil's Totem in support of Sentebale at the Royal Albert Hall on Wednesday 16th January. The evening will raise awareness and funds for Sentebale's work with children and young people affected by HIV in southern Africa. Prince Harry and Meghan met representatives from Sentebale, Cirque du Soleil and Totem, including members of the cast.
Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex and Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex at the premiere of Cirque du Soleil's Totem in support of Sentebale at the Royal Albert Hall on January 16, 2019. (Photo by: KGC-375/STAR MAX/IPx 2019)

Markle said that, although she and Harry turned to the royal family to get mental health help for her, they were denied their request. That, the couple said, is partially why they left their role as working members of the royal family.

Mental health experts applaud Markle’s candidness. "Although the pressure to be 'normal' and perfect is so great for someone like Meghan Markle, the impact of her showing that vulnerability to the world could be huge," Jason Moser, a professor of psychology at Michigan State University, tells Yahoo Life.

"As much as mental health has entered the social discussion in our world, there are still very strong entrenched stigmas against people that express mental and emotional struggles," says psychologist John Mayer, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life. "To speak out about your mental health struggle does take courage."

The stigma surrounding mental illness "engenders feelings of shame and guilt and makes it even harder for someone to personally seek out treatment — which is what they need — in addition to exacerbating the mental illness they are already suffering with," Dr. Gail Saltz, an associate professor of psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine and host of the How Can I Help? podcast from iHeartRadio, tells Yahoo Life.

"Stigma implies that mental illness is some personal weakness, some moral failing, something you could just quit doing if you wanted to enough or were strong enough, something defective about your character," Saltz says. "These cultural accusations serve to keep the mentally ill trapped inside their own suffering and make it too embarrassing to speak about their illness or to seek care."

But, Moser says, the more people like Markle share their own struggles with mental health, "the more it becomes acceptable for others to come forward and get the care they need."

For people who are struggling, hearing a celebrity say "I've been there" can lead to hope, Mayer says — an emotion he calls "the antidote for suicidal thoughts."

It can also help people to feel less alone, something that's "important" for those who are struggling, Courtney Benjamin Wolk, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Penn Center for Mental Health in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, tells Yahoo Life. "Many effective treatment options exist, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication," she says."It is important for people to know that mental health challenges can affect anyone and that recovery is possible."

Overall, experts hope that Markle's candidness about her struggle can help show the general public that depression doesn't discriminate. "Because of the stigma surrounding mental health, we often think that mental health issues only happen in 'certain types' of people," Dr. Monifa Seawell, a board-certified psychiatrist in Atlanta, Georgia, tells Yahoo Life. "People often have a very limited understanding about how prominent mental health issues are. Meghan Markle has demonstrated that mental health issues can affect anyone, regardless of your status or standing in life."

Moser is hopeful that Markle's revelations can help chip away at mental health stigmas. “It needs to be OK for people to share their struggles and get the care they need," he says. "It's OK to struggle and make mistakes and have problems. The more we accept this truth, the more we’ll be able to move forward in so many ways."

Celebrities like Markle speaking out about their own mental health journey can help. "Meghan Markle sharing her story about struggles with mental health can get us a little closer as a society to reshaping the narrative away from 'perfection' and 'normal' and towards the reality that we all live lives with ups and downs, triumphs and failures — and that’s OK," Moser says.

Markle stressed the importance of speaking up when you're struggling with mental health, noting that it "takes so much courage to admit that you need help."

She also urged people to have compassion for others. "And that's, I think, so important for people to remember is you have no idea what's going on for someone behind closed doors — no idea," Markle said. "Even the people that smile and shine the brightest lights. You need to have compassion for what is actually potentially going on."

If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

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