By Jemima Gurney
With the threat of war between the United States and Iran looming in the headlines, it could be expected that people would focus solely on this. However, the vilification of the Duchess of Sussex in particular, as well as her husband, following their decision to “step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family”, has been widespread on social media and in the tabloids, almost eclipsing the considerably more menacing news. A point that is perhaps largely being missed, however, is the greater positive implications of Meghan and Harry’s actions for national and international mental health awareness.
Their announcement comes less than three months after the documentary Harry & Meghan: An African Journey aired, in which the Duchess of Sussex agrees with interviewer Tom Bradby’s assessment that she is “not really ok” and that “it’s really been a struggle”. As a result, the chronological correlation between the discussion of Meghan’s mental health and their decision cannot, and indeed should not, be ignored. Rather, this can be seen as a reminder of the fact that mental health is a topic that affects everyone, irrespective of their privilege, and that taking steps to look after one’s mental and physical state is exceedingly important, whether this is in accordance with what others expect or not.
mental health is a topic that affects everyone, irrespective of their privilege
On the decision and the subsequent backlash, Matt Haig, author of Reasons to Stay Alive, wrote on Twitter: “I think Meghan Markle is an inspiration to anyone who has ever been bullied. You don’t have to put up with bullshit because it is ‘expected’ or because it is ‘part of the job’ or it ‘comes with the territory’. Live your life in accord with your own terms, not the terms of haters.” His words highlight the extent of the positive impact that Meghan in particular can have in normalising discussion around mental health and empowering others through her actions.
The idea of reducing the stigma around mental health was already a concern of the Royal Family, as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry launched ‘Heads Together’, a charity campaign which, according to its website, caused “1.5 million more people [to speak] out about mental health”. Thus, this latest move can be interpreted as Meghan and Harry leading by example in acting to make themselves happier and improve their mental wellbeing, echoing Meghan’s own assertion that “it’s not enough to just survive something, right? That’s not the point of life. You’ve got to thrive, you’ve got to feel happy.”
“it’s not enough to just survive something, right? That’s not the point of life. You’ve got to thrive, you’ve got to feel happy.”
Evidently, not everyone is in a place of such financial security as Meghan and Harry to uproot and dramatically alter their lifestyle. However, the motivation for their wish to “step back” is not entirely dissimilar to that behind smaller changes made on a more mundane scale. The decisions of a student to change course at university, or for someone to change their job, for example, share the same overarching goal of becoming happier in the long term. Similarly, just as the question of tradition, expectation and duty pervades discussion of their controversial choice, pressure from friends and the expectations of one’s family, heavily influence and perhaps inhibit or even prevent decisions to take the road ‘less traveled by’ in our own ‘normal’ day to day lives.
Despite seeming ostensibly removed from society by dint of their being members of the Royal Family, the humanity that they have exhibited through this decision, (arguably taken as a result of their experience of the almost universal struggle with mental health), belies a relatable quality which has largely eluded the monarchy, and which should not be undermined or dismissed.
Image: Last Night of Freedom via Flickr