On a Tuesday morning stroll around the park, you’d normally listen to the laughter of small children playing and the birdsongs painting the fresh air around you. Occasionally, one dog would bark to catch its owner’s attention.
But this Tuesday it was a tune: the only sound that resonated through the park was people’s chatter around the Harry and Meghan interview that aired on ITV the night before. A couple was conversing lightly about “what will the Queen say about that?”. Two mothers pushing their strollers were whispering, extremely concerned about “the unbelievable racism claims.” All while the sports group was praising, in between reps, Meghan’s courage for speaking about her suicidal thoughts.
The UK broadcast of Harry and Meghan’s first interview since they stepped down as senior members of the royal family attracted 11 million viewers, all tuning in at 8 pm (with 17.1 million viewers in the US). Some key points discussed that night have been on everyone’s lips. The broadcast felt like an insight into the non-working Royal couple’s life: they discussed their relationship with the rest of the Royal family and let the audience into some heart-warming personal anecdotes, such as Meghan’s first courtesy to the Queen.
Meghan’s words drew light and darkness: from her innocent surprise in realising the similarities between the Little Mermaid’s story and hers, to the moving confession about her suicidal mental state during her time in the Palace.
“I just didn’t want to be alive anymore,” she told Oprah Winfrey. “And that was a very clear and real and frightening, constant thought.”
Despite the split reactions that this interview unleashed all over the world, there is one point that is undeniable: it is really hard to talk about suicide. The barriers that tie the tongue and become a dark lonely cell are many: we might not want to tell anyone about our self-harm thoughts because it is hard to admit you need help, especially in a society that showcases all the happy moments and hides the hard ones.
It might make us feel ashamed, guilty of unloading our problems onto our loved ones. Or again, we might be afraid of inadvertently triggering someone that could be in a difficult situation too. The taboo that has stuck to the concept of suicide as we conceive it and surrounded it with such unspeakable attributes seems to stand in the way of getting help. Even Meghan told the world that when she began having suicidal thoughts, she felt deeply ashamed.
“I was supposed to be stronger than that,” she said. Meghan is a former actress, an independent woman that started off working as a waitress when she was 13 years old. Before meeting the prince, Meghan advocated for women’s rights all over the world: she became a world ambassador for World Vision Canada, travelled to Rwanda for the Clean Water Campaign, she wrote for the Time magazine to raise the issue of stigmatisation of women about menstrual health and she was an advocate for the United Nations Entry for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. Yet, less than five years after these great achievements, she found herself not wanting to be alive anymore.
The Duchess of Sussex slammed open a door that has asked to be unlocked for years. Even before the pandemic and the various restrictions on social life, the suicide numbers in England and Wales increased every year. The Samaritans reported that over five thousand people took their lives in 2019 alone, with a rate of female suicides that reached its highest level, increasing by 93.8% since 2012.
The official numbers of suicides during 2020 has not yet been released, as it takes months for deaths by suicide to be recorded. However, charities across the UK are warning of a colossal mental health crisis caused by the ongoing Covid restrictions. In the first six months of lockdown (March-November 2020), the London Ambulance Service received over 15 thousand calls relating to suicide or attempted suicide.
The numbers alone show that this is an issue that cannot be ignored anymore. The workings of this second pandemic need to be faced with the same urgency as the virus itself. Meghan’s words, however controversial, have been eye-opening for many people who took the courage to imitate the Duchess of Sussex and seek help. Suicide or Survive, the US Nationwide suicide prevention charity applauded Meghan’s bravery in opening up about her suicidal thoughts: “No matter how high her profile, it is still very difficult to open up on this subject, but her words help break down the stigma around mental health and suicide.”
Whether the words spoken by the Duchess of Sussex were calculated or not, it cannot go unnoticed that they might save some lives by opening a place of discussion around mental health and suicide. Ultimately, if this personal confession by Meghan can help suicide prevention go as viral as her interview with Oprah, then the people of the United Kingdom would be forever indebted, no matter their position on this royal feud.