Overcoming the Stigma of Receiving Mental Health Care
How Prince Harry's mental health journey can help others overcome trauma.
Posted Dec 01, 2020
The recent season of the smash hit The Crown on Netflix shows various members of the Royal Family struggling with mental health issues and depicts the years leading up to the tragic death of Diana, the Princess of Wales, in a car crash in Paris.
Prince Harry was only 12 years old when he lost his mother. As I touch on in my book on car accident recovery, children who are involved in auto crashes, directly or indirectly, are often neglected psychologically. As children are less verbal in their reactions to their trauma, it is easy to assume that they are coping adequately, but in fact, this is often not the case.
To Prince Harry’s great credit, he has recently opened up about the emotional impact of his heartbreaking loss and the importance of mental health. In recent candid interviews, he has spoken about how he avoided even thinking about his mother for 20 years.
“My way of dealing with it was sticking my head in the sand, refusing to ever think about my mum, because why would that help?” Harry recalled in 2017. “[I thought] it’s only going to make you sad, it’s not going to bring her back. So from an emotional side, I was like, right, don’t ever let your emotions be part of anything. And then [I] started to have a few conversations, and actually, all of a sudden, all of this grief that I have never processed started to come to the forefront, and I was like, there is actually a lot of stuff here that I need to deal with.”
Eventually, the weight of Prince Harry’s unresolved grief became too heavy to bear. The British cultural attitude of having a stiff upper lip in the face of adversity simply was not working for him. Avoiding the acknowledgment and processing of his grief was negatively impacting both his personal and professional life.
After experiencing the benefits of psychotherapy, Prince Harry has become a huge advocate for mental health care. Earlier this year, he joined forces with his brother and sister-in-law, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, to launch Heads Together, an initiative focused on ending the stigma around mental health issues.
In my psychotherapy practice, I have found that many of my patients who have benefited the most were men who worked in traditionally more masculine roles, such as military special forces. They eventually gained the courage to confront their greatest threat—overwhelming feelings and emotions that had been buried alive.
I have had the privilege to witness many strong men weep uncontrollably as they released years of tamped-down emotions of pain, sadness, betrayal, and anger. One such man expressed fears that he was “crying like a woman” and worried I would judge him as weak. I commented that, in fact, he was showing immense strength and was crying like a man. The validation for him was life-changing.
The openness of Prince Harry publicly discussing his mental health challenges was an act of tremendous courage, particularly in a culture that has traditionally avoided displays of emotion. He will likely serve as a role model for future generations. The fact that someone of his stature has broken the silence on the impact of unresolved grief is, in my view, extremely encouraging.
Hopefully, we will start to see less mental illness resulting from unprocessed trauma. When dealing with trauma and loss, seeking mental health care is the healthiest action we can take and is a sign of great emotional strength and fortitude.
Hearon, Sarah. “The Royal Families Most Candid Quotes About Their Mental Health Struggles”.US Weekly. August 8, 2020. https://www.msn.com/en-us/lifestyle/lifestyle-buzz/the-royal-family-s-most-candid-quotes-about-their-mental-health-struggles/ss-BB14O8Vk .
Nardino, Meredith. “Prince William and Prince Harry Share Heartfelt Message to Thank Volunteers at Princess Diana’s Charity”. US Weekly. May 14, 2020. https://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-news/news/prince-william-prince-harry-support-late-princess-dianas-charity/ .
Cecilia Rodriguez. “Prince Harry Opens up About His 20-Year Mental Struggle”. Forbes. August 18, 2017. https://www.forbes.com/sites/ceciliarodriguez/2017/04/18/prince-harry-opens-up-about-his-20-years-of-mental-struggle/?sh=77922aad78ab.
Zender, James F. Dr. Recovering from Your Car Accident: The Complete Guide to Reclaiming Your Life. New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2020.