Meghan Markle’s Openness About Suicidal Ideation Will Save Lives
Last night's much-anticipated Oprah Winfrey interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry — their first since stepping away from their roles as official royals — brought with it a slew of jaw-dropping revelations. But perhaps the most heartbreaking was that Markle had been silently suffering from suicidal ideation — and was shut down when she sought help from the monarchy for depression.
"I was really ashamed to say it at the time, and ashamed to have to admit it to Harry especially because I know how much loss he suffered," Markle told Oprah. "But I knew that if I didn't say it I would do it, and I just didn't want to be alive anymore. And that was a very clear and real and frightening constant thought."
Markle told Oprah that she went to "one of the most senior people" in the "institution," aka the office of the Royals, letting them know she needed to get help. "I was told I couldn't, because it would be bad for the institution." Markle added that she wanted to share her experience to help others dealing with suicidal thoughts. "I know personally how hard it is to not just voice it, but when you voice it to be told 'no,'" she said.
While mental illness is one of the most common struggles in this country, suicide is an aspect that is often glossed over or hushed, which makes Markle's revelations even more impactful, says psychiatrist Jessi Gold, M.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University in St Louis.
"The conversation around help-seeking is particularly poignant and critical. Markle highlights how hard it is just to have the courage to say 'I need help,' in the first place," Dr. Gold says. "There is stigma that comes with that; shame that comes in that; weakness that comes with that. These views aren't correct, but it's what society has long told us about mental health struggles, and, therefore, what our own self-stigma tells us."
Markle's experience also shows how, even after speaking up about the need for help, it's common to encounter barriers, Dr. Gold says. While Markle was simply told she wasn't allowed to get help, others might be told their struggles can be "prayed away" or face financial barriers to access. And, Dr. Gold adds, "others simply don't have the energy that it takes to do all of those things when they are actively depressed."
The responses to the interview from people like Piers Morgan suggesting that Markle is "lying" or that her privilege means she's immune to depression are both gross and damaging. "When someone talks about what is going on with them, we have to be accepting of their emotions and experiences. Anything less is additionally traumatizing and invalidating and can actually compound their experience for them," Dr. Gold says.
As Markle so clearly illustrates, even if someone appears to have it all together, it doesn't mean they can't be suffering. "Sometimes people show us the side of them that society expects them to show — the happy, put together, successful, and her case, royal, person — and that person isn't supposed to have feelings or be vulnerable, because that is a weakness," Dr. Gold says. "But, that just isn't true. Even a duchess can have mental health struggles."
Mental health experts agree that Markle's bravery in sharing her story has the power to save lives. "If we can see someone like Meghan Markle talk about suicide — and not just talk about it, but talk about it so openly, including the struggles she dealt with in relation to it — it can help others to relate and maybe ask for help themselves," Dr. Gold says, adding that when Princess Diana opened up about her struggles with bulimia in the 1990s, treatment rates in England doubled. "This is particularly important for communities of color, where it helps to see someone like you and relate to the symptoms and know it is common and treatable."
If there's one takeaway from this interview, let it be this, Dr. Gold says: "It is important to know you aren't alone and that there is help available."
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text Crisis Text Line at 741-741.
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