‘Prince Harry Isn’t Betraying His Family – He Is Challenging The Idea That It’s Nobler To Suffer In Silence’

As the Duke of Sussex is attacked over the revelations he makes in his new documentary with Oprah, The Me You Can't See, mental health campaigner Natasha Devon defends his decision to speak out.

Prince Harry

by Natasha Devon |
Updated on

Whatever your opinion of the monarchy, their influence (however tangentially) pervades our lives. They remain relevant because they represent us, both in ceremonial visits in which members are sent around the globe to engender feelings of goodwill towards the United Kingdom, but also in a more personal capacity: we tend to pick a member of the royals with whom we share something in common, or who possesses qualities we wish we had and they become our mascot. It’s much the same principle as supporting a football team. It appeals our innate urge to be tribal.

My royal mascot is Meghan. I relate her in many ways – the sense of being ‘different’ and therefore alienated – but I also think she is absolute goals. Intelligent, eloquent, thoughtful, kind, talented, stylish and gorgeous, Meghan is who I wish I was. She is my chosen human talisman and I therefore have a tendency to leap to her defence when she’s criticised by tabloids, or snooty royal commentators, for not towing the line.

For millions of others, it’s Harry in whom they see themselves. Any overlooked second child, anyone who has ever wanted to carve their own path not defined by their family name, anyone who has lost a parent at a young age, anyone who has served in the armed forces - even anyone who has been teased for having red hair – will likely relate to the Duke of Sussex and his struggles. For them, his recent candour in his new documentary with Oprah Winfrey, The Me You Can't See, over the way residual childhood trauma led him to substance misuse and how he overcame that with therapywill be inspiring and poignant.

Role modelling can be very effective in encouraging people to open up about and seek help for their own mental ill health. This is particularly true of men. Studies have shown boys imbibe a narrative from a very early age which tells them certain emotions aren’t an ‘appropriate’ part of masculinity and should therefore be squashed. Where girls are usually learn it’s okay for them to experience a vast array of feelings, boys learn that anger is their only outlet.

To me, he isn’t ‘whinging’, ‘oversharing’ or ‘betraying his family’, he is attempting to smash an incredibly dangerous and pervasive taboo. He is challenging the idea that it’s somehow nobler to suffer in silence

This goes some way to explaining why, at school, boys are more likely to be diagnosed with a behavioural disorder, whereas girls tend to be labelled as having an emotional disorder. It’s a cycle which affects the way mental health issues manifest throughout our lives – women are more likely to self-harm in ‘traditional’ ways, men are more likely to get into fights they know they can’t win. Women are three times more likely to receive a diagnosis of depression, men are three times more likely to self-medicate with alcohol and other drugs. Ultimately, men are more likely to die by suicide.

As a mental health campaigner, I see every recent comment on Prince Harry within this context. To me, he isn’t ‘whinging’, ‘oversharing’ or ‘betraying his family’, he is attempting to smash an incredibly dangerous and pervasive taboo. He is challenging the idea that it’s somehow nobler to suffer in silence. He is demonstrating that we don’t have to be defined by the blueprint given to us in childhood and that we can choose to break toxic cycles.

The traditionalists think that it’s somehow ‘manlier’ and more becoming of a father not to air one’s dirty laundry in public

Of course, not everyone agrees. The traditionalists – the kinds of people who praised the late Duke of Edinburgh for ‘never complaining’ despite his mother being sectioned and his father abandoning him before he was ten – think that it’s somehow ‘manlier’ and more becoming of a father not to air one’s dirty laundry in public. They are busy denigrating Harry, intent on portraying him as weak. No doubt, they do so out of a sense of loyalty to their own favoured royal – the Cambridges or even the Queen herself. Unfortunately, it’s an attitude which perpetuates stigma and ultimately kills.

Having said that, there is an interesting discussion to be had around who gets to own the narrative. William for example, by dint of being heir to the throne, arguably cannot give us his version of what went on within the palace walls when he and his brother were children. Harry’s very public criticism of Prince Charles’ parenting, you could reasonably argue, might also have a knock-on impact on his father's mental health. My response to this analysis would be that Harry, by his own account, initially tried to sort it out privately. He describes asking for help and being met with ‘total neglect’.

From where I’m standing, Harry’s message is unequivocal: the ‘stiff upper lip’ and ‘dignified silence’ with which his family are synonymous is not aspirational – it masks and perpetuates pain and suffering. It’s a message I believe the British public, for the sake of our own sanity, needs to hear.

READ MORE: Everything You Need To Know About The Me You Can't See, Prince Harry's New Documentary

READ MORE: The Deeply Touching Reason Archie's First Words Haunt Prince Harry

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