Nobody Has The Right To Question Those Who Open Up About Suicidal Ideation
One of the most devastating moments of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah Winfrey was when Meghan revealed the toll her experience of being a senior royal had taken on her mental health.
Many of us had seen the cruel comments launched at the Duchess of Sussex following her marriage to Prince Harry. However, this was the first time we saw her reflect on how such treatment had affected her on a personal level – the human being behind the furious headlines.
Speaking with a candidness rarely seen with members of the Royal Family, Meghan revealed she had experienced suicidal thoughts while pregnant with Archie, telling Oprah, ‘I just didn’t want to be alive anymore.’
When Oprah asked her to clarify whether she had been having suicidal thoughts, Meghan answered that the thoughts she had been having had been ‘very, very clear’, and even revealed that she hadn’t wanted to be left alone during this period for fear of what she might do.
Recalling this dark time in her life, a time so many people around the world can relate to all too well, Meghan said:
It was like, these are the thoughts that I’m having in the middle of the night that are very clear, and I’m scared, because this is very real. This isn’t some abstract idea. This is methodical, and this is not who I am.
Many viewers have since expressed gratitude to Meghan for her courage, applauding her for speaking out about an extremely difficult issue while showing that there is indeed a way of moving forward and feeling safe and happy in your life after such a low point.
Some have spoken out about how Meghan’s words have helped them open up to loved ones about their own past thoughts of suicidal ideation, while others noted that the interview may well have prompted those currently suffering to seek help.
Mental health charity Mind tweeted:
We applaud Meghan Markle for speaking out about her experiences of suicidal thoughts. We know that opening up in this way can be really difficult, but when high profile people talk about these experiences, it helps to break down the stigma around mental health issues.
Sadly, there were those who saw fit to tear Meghan down at this most vulnerable time; to question the narrative of a woman who has uprooted her entire life for the safety and mental wellbeing of her young family.
It was unsurprising when Piers Morgan laid into Meghan Markle the morning after the interview. His personal dislike of the Duchess is well documented in his Mail Online articles, his incandescent tweets, his tiresome onslaught of Good Morning Britain outbursts.
However, many of us were still horrified when Morgan chose to publicly cast doubt over Meghan’s suicidal thoughts, retorting, ‘I don’t believe a word she says, Meghan Markle. I wouldn’t believe her if she read me a weather report.’
It was difficult to believe that such nastiness could be ever aired on breakfast TV, let alone on ITV, the channel behind high-profile mental health campaign ‘Britain Get Talking’.
In a tweeted statement, Britain Get Talking partner Mind said:
We were disappointed and concerned to see Piers Morgan’s comments on not believing Meghan’s experiences about suicidal thoughts today.
It’s vital that when people reach out for support or share their experiences of ill mental health that they are treated with dignity, respect and empathy. We are in conversations with ITV about this at the moment.
It’s now understood that Morgan has stepped away from his long-standing position as a Good Morning Britain host in light of the way he discussed Meghan’s mental health concerns. ITV has accepted this decision, and has made no further comment on the matter.
This exit came after Ofcom launched an investigation into Morgan’s remarks, with more than 41,000 complaints having piled in from viewers. One of these complaints came from myself, and marks the first one I’ve ever been compelled to make.
Going forward, I would hope that nothing like this ever transpires again over breakfast television; that the host who steps into Morgan’s shoes will consider those watching at home, and how they might be feeling as they start their day.
According to Mind, one in five people will experience suicidal thoughts at some point in their lifetime. A further one in 14 people will self-harm, while one in 15 people attempt suicide.
Although Meghan’s life and circumstances are indeed extraordinary, viewers from a variety of backgrounds would have been able to relate to the feelings she expressed so eloquently.
So many people can relate to putting on a brave face for work commitments despite experiencing inner turmoil, or building up the courage to tell their partner how they’re really feeling inside.
The photograph of Meghan looking radiant in a shimmering dress with only Harry, gripping her hand protectively, knowing about the real anguish within, sparked real empathy in so many viewers.
This picture also perfectly illustrated how such terrible thoughts can remain hidden from view for so long; carefully orchestrated appearances and brave smiles masking unshared wells of inner sadness.
Anyone who has ever struggled with mental health issues will of course know that the symptoms don’t always show too visibly on the surface. Nobody therefore has to right to look at another human being from the outside and dismiss their innermost thoughts and fears as lies.
Simon Gunning, CEO of mental health charity CALM, told UNILAD:
At CALM, we stand together with everyone who’s struggling with life, no matter who they are, where they’re from or what they’re going through.
If you or anyone you know is feeling suicidal, it is vital you get support and it is important you know that you are not alone. One of the hardest and bravest things anyone can do is talk about their own suicidal thoughts and whatever the circumstances, those thoughts must not be doubted or discounted.
Just as many people would have drawn strength from Meghan’s story, many will have also been hurt by Morgan’s dismissiveness – by the realisation that there are those who believe they have the authority to pull apart and sneer at such personal accounts.
As discussed by Harry and Meghan in their interview, talking through such things can be an extremely difficult thing to do, but it is so very important to speak out and seek help.
Gunning told UNILAD:
Recent events in the media serve as a timely reminder that no one should suffer in silence, and that we must continue to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide. As more and more awareness is brought to the issue, we see first-hand how this can have a positive impact on the number of people reaching out for help.
But even with growing awareness of mental health issues and suicide, individuals that have a platform to share their voice have a duty to act responsibly.
We must remain empathetic and understanding and learn from those with lived experiences. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that anyone who needs to ask for help can be completely sure that that request will be met with compassion.
Gunning went on to remark that, while progress has indeed been made over the course of recent years in terms of changing the discourse and helping people open up about their feelings, ‘there’s still a long way to go in tackling the stigma surrounding mental health’.
Offering advice for those currently experiencing suicidal thoughts, Gunning said:
Get help. Suicidal thoughts can spiral and make it difficult to think about or do anything else. If you are regularly having suicidal thoughts, or they are becoming overwhelming and difficult to ignore, you should talk to someone about how you’re feeling.
Speaking to someone about how you feel can help you to break the cycle and stop your mind running wild. It could be a friend or family member, a medical professional, a CALM helpline worker or if you are a risk to yourself, the emergency services.
Like Harry, there will be so many others out there who find themselves wanting desperately to look after a loved one with suicidal ideation the best they can, whether that be a spouse, friend or family member.
If you’re worried that someone you know may be feeling suicidal it can be really hard to know what to say to them. But it’s important we do reach out to talk to them.
Gunning has advised the ALAN method – Ask, Listen, Action and Network – as a way of starting such conversations, explaining:
[This] is a tool we developed to help get the conversation started, and make us all more comfortable checking in on someone who seems to be having a tough time. It’s easy to remember and just as easy to do.
The first step of the ALAN method is ‘Ask’, which is all about asking the person you’re worried about open questions. These can be as simple and as open as ‘how are you doing?’.
Give the person time to open up if they need. It’s okay to say you’re worried, or that you’re not sure how to start the conversation but you wanted to see if they’re okay. Asking is the very first step in breaking down that wall and making a connection in someone’s time of need.
The next step would be ‘Listen’, with Gunning emphasising the need to ‘make sure you actually listen to the answer’ you’ve been given:
Be patient and let them say what they need. Try to just listen, rather than attempting to solve any problem. Lots of people just need to vent – and even by chipping in with advice you could unintentionally cut them off or dismiss their feelings.
For the ‘Action’ part, Gunning advised those who might be concerned about loved ones to ‘create a plan of action to get them feeling better’:
It’s a good idea to set SMART goals – tasks that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. So rather than a general ‘I want to feel happier’, break that goal down into more manageable chunks; say, calling and booking a doctor’s appointment by this time next week, or planning to meet up again this coming Friday.
Let your friend know what support is out there and arrange a time for you to check back in.
The final part of the ALAN method is ‘Network’, with Gunning stressing the need to let the person in question ‘know they’re not in this alone’:
Build a support network of friends, family, and professionals (a doctor or a therapist, for example) so that the person struggling knows they have people they can turn to in any situation.
It was a joyful thing to see Meghan looking happy in her new life in Santa Barbara, able to look back on what she has been through from solid ground. It was equally wonderful to see Harry showing such strong public support for his wife, listening and hearing her with love and respect.
The couple’s conversation with Oprah was in stark contrast to the ravings of Morgan, and I do hope such irresponsible and dangerous television ‘debates’ over a person’s mental health will soon be left behind with Morgan’s Good Morning Britain career.
In our ordinary lives, we may not be princesses or famous TV presenters, but we can make the conscious choice every day to show support for those with suicidal thoughts and do our absolute best to listen and be there for them.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues and want to speak to someone in confidence, please don’t suffer alone. Call Samaritans for free on their anonymous 24-hour phone line on 116 123.