Editor’s Note: The following story discusses details of suicidal thoughts which may be distressing to some readers. Reader discretion is advised.
On Sunday night, Oprah Winfrey conducted an interview with Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle and her husband, Prince Harry, in which Markle discussed a number of different topics. The two headlining issues were Markle’s struggles with racism and isolation while in the royal family.
From the moment Markle’s relationship with Harry was made public, Markle was made the subject of an endless stream of racist and sexist press coverage, disproportionate to press coverage other members of the royal family received.
For example, when sister-in-law and Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton was photographed holding her baby bump while pregnant, she was praised for being tender and motherly. However, when Markle performed the same action, she was accused of being vain, prideful, or practicing some new-age technique. When Middleton ate avocado toast, it was a trendy cure for morning sickness, but when Markle did it it was eating a fruit “linked to water shortages, illegal deforestation and environmental devastation.”
In her one-on-one portion of the interview with Winfrey, Markle confessed that the nasty tabloids from the British media, combined with the royal family’s control over her life and refusal to help, led to her developing suicidal thoughts.
Because of the media attention, she explained, she was told she was not allowed to have lunch with friends because she had been in the press too often. This led to intense isolation. The lack of protection from the media from Buckingham Palace that other members of the royal family received meant that Markle had to face racist and sensationalist press on her own. On top of that, there were concerns that her soon-to-be-born son, Archie, would not receive an official royal title or receive security from the palace, which added to her stress. One unnamed member of the royal family reportedly had a conversation with Harry about concerns over Archie’s skin color.
All of this led to a state where Markle “didn’t see a solution” to the troubles facing her. The protection she had initially been promised from the family wasn’t there. Her friends and mother were calling her in tears because of what was happening to her.
“I realized it was all happening just because I was breathing,” Markle said. “I was ashamed to say it at the time…but I knew that if I didn’t say it, that 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 then described her attempts to get help, which were denied by the family. Neither a senior member of the family or human resources helped her, and she wasn’t allowed to leave the palace to go to a hospital to seek treatment.
“This wasn’t a choice. This was emails and begging for help, saying…‘I am concerned for my mental welfare’. And people going, ‘Oh, yes, yes, it’s disproportionately terrible what we see out there to anyone else’. But nothing was ever done.”
The day Markle told her husband about her feelings, the couple also attended a social event at the Royal Albert Hall. Markle said in the interview that despite the emotional morning, she still decided to go to the event, not wanting to be left alone. During the event, the couple put on a happy face whenever the attention was on them, but “every time those lights went down in that Royal Box” Markle was weeping, while Harry gripped her hand.
Harry, once he was brought into the interview, also confessed that the smiling faces were “part of the job. That’s a part of the role. That’s what’s expected. No matter who you are in the family, no matter what’s going on in your personal life, no matter what’s just happened, if the bikes roll up and the car rolls up, you got to get dressed, you got to get in there. You wipe your tears away, shake off whatever you’re thinking about, and you got to be on your A game.”
Hearing Markle describe her clear suicidal ideation made me feel sick to my stomach, because the way she phrased it, as a “very clear and real and frightening constant thought,” exactly mirrors my own ideations. While I’m not currently in any danger of self-harm, there have been times where the feeling of looking into the future and knowing I wanted no part in it was inescapable. It hurts to hear a reflection like this, but it’s also a blessing, not only because a famous person knows exactly how I feel, but because she was able to articulate it in a public space.
Mental struggles such as suicidal ideation are hard to talk about. There’s a stigma, for sure, a worry that saying how you feel will alienate you from those you love. There’s a paranoia over being forcefully institutionalized for expressing your feelings which prevents many from seeking help from suicide prevention lifelines. It feels, many times, like the simplest option is to stay silent, and that’s a terrible way to feel. It is isolating, and it is alienating, and it can and does break people.
In moments like this interview, where someone says something that makes you go, “hey, that’s exactly how I feel,” it is liberating. Markle mentioned earlier in the interview how important representation is for people of color, and I believe that the same applies here. Giving people more tools to articulate how they feel is always a good thing, and being able to point to Markle’s interview and go “I feel like that” is one of those tools.
But while the representation may be liberating for me, what was likely liberating for Markle was stepping away from the royal family, which she did with Harry in January 2020. While I’m certain Markle’s struggles with racism are far from over, as they are far from over with all people of color, at least now she will be free from the isolation of the royal family.
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