Prince Harry Says Requests for Help to His Family Were 'Met with Total Silence, Total Neglect'
"Family members have said just play the game and your life will be easier. But I have a hell of a lot of my mum in me," Prince Harry says of therapy in The Me You Can't See
Prince Harry previously spoke to Oprah Winfrey about feeling "desperate" and "in a lot of pain" during his and Meghan Markle's years as working royals, and that they were unable to find help with their mental health.
In his new docuseries The Me You Can't See, which was co-created with Oprah, Harry, who opens up about seeking therapy for his own mental health struggles, shares more details about growing up in the royal family. "People who are hurt, understandably hurt, from their upbringing, their environment, what's happened to them, what they've been exposed to, what they've seen — whatever it is — if you don't transform, if you don't process it, then it ends up coming out and in all sorts of different ways and you can't control," he says.
His mental health struggles intensified after the death of his mother, Princess Diana, in August 1997. At the time, Harry was just 12 years old.
"I am one of the first people to recognize that firstly, I had a fear of — when I first went to therapy — a fear of losing," he says. "Four years of therapy for an individual that never thought that they would ever need or do therapy is ... that's a long time. I wasn't in an environment where it was encouraged to talk about it either. That was sort of, like, squashed."
Harry also explains that he thought he "needed" therapy because of "the past, to heal from the past," mainly the death of his mother. "I don't want to think about her, because if I think about her then it's going to bring up the fact that I can't bring her back and it's just going to make me sad. What's the point in thinking about something sad, what's the point of thinking about someone that you've lost and you're never going to get back again. And I just decided not to talk about it. No one was talking about it," Harry recalls.
Harry said he was told to grin and bear it when it came to his mental health. "Family members have said just play the game and your life will be easier. But I have a hell of a lot of my mum in me. I feel as though I am outside of the system but I'm still stuck there. The only way to free yourself and break out to tell the truth," he says, later adding, "If your parents don't want to talk about it. And your friends can't remind you about it, there's no reason why you shouldn't say, 'Hang on a second, I may be the product of my upbringing.' "
After Diana's death, Harry says he had his "head in the sand and just crack on," adding, "If people said, 'How are you?' I'd be like, 'fine.' Never happy. Never sad, just fine. Fine was the easy answer. But I was all over the place mentally."
And he would endure "panic attacks [and] severe anxiety" during royal duties in his late 20s, a period he calls a "nightmare time in my life" due to being in "fight of flight mode" and "freaking out" often.
"Every single time I jump in the car and every single time I see a camera. I would just start sweating. I would feel as though my body temperature was two or three degrees warmer than everybody else in the room. I would convince myself that my face was bright red and that everybody could see how I was feeling, but no one would know why. So it was embarrassing. You get in your head about it," Harry shares.
Also during those years, he recalls partying as his form of escape. "I was willing to drink, I was willing to take drugs, I was willing to try and do the things that made me feel less like I was feeling. But I slowly became aware that, okay, I wasn't drinking Monday to Friday, but I would probably drink a week's worth in one day on a Friday or a Saturday night. And I would find myself drinking, not because I was enjoying it but because I was trying to mask something," he says, later sharing that "the happiest time of life was the 10 years in the Army" because there was no special treatment for being a royal.
In the second episode of The Me You Can't See, Harry further reflects on his childhood.
"Now in hindsight, looking back, it's all about timing. Towards my late 20s, everything became really hectic for me. To the point of exhaustion, I was traveling all over the place because from my family's perspective, I guess I was the person who was, like, 'We need somebody to go there. Nepal, Harry. You go.' I was always the yes man. I was always one who didn't say yes, but then yes, yes, of course. Yes. Yes, yes, led to burnout," he explains.
Then with therapy, all his bottled-up emotions and frustrations came to the surface. "It was like someone had taken a lid off all of the emotions that I've suppressed for so many years suddenly came to the forefront. And I saw GPs [general practitioners], I saw doctors, I saw therapists, I saw alternative therapists. I saw all sorts of people. But it was meeting and being with Meghan, I knew that if I didn't do therapy and fix myself, that I was going to lose this woman who I could see spending the rest of my life with."
But his relationship with his now-wife Meghan Markle made it harder for both him and her.
"There was a lot of learning right at the beginning of our relationship. She was shocked to be coming backstage of the institution of the British royal family. When she said, 'I think you need to see someone, that was in reaction to an argument we had. And in that argument, not knowing about it, I reverted back to 12-year-old Harry," he recalls.
"The moment I started therapy and probably within my second session, my therapist turned around to me, and said, 'That sounds like you are reverting to 12-year-old Harry.' I felt somewhat ashamed and defensive, but 'how dare you, you're calling me a child.' She was 'I'm not calling you a child. I'm expressing sympathy and empathy for you for what happened to you when you were a child. You never processed it. You were never allowed to talk about it. And all of a sudden now, it's coming up in different ways as projection.' That was the start of a learning journey for me. I became aware that I'd been living in a bubble, within this family, within this institution, I was, sort of, almost trapped in a thought process or a mindset."
His romance with Meghan was barraged with scrutiny from the media, mostly with racist claims, and the treatment from the U.K. press reminded him of the painful memories of his mother's death. "I thought my family would help, but every single ask, request, warning, whatever, it is just got met with total silence, total neglect. We spent four years trying to make it work. We did everything that we possibly could to stay there and carry on doing the role and doing the job. But Meghan was struggling," Harry says.
Specifically speaking about the January 2019 evening at a charity event inside Royal Albert Hall, the same event Meghan previously told Oprah she had suicidal thoughts right before, Harry recalls "feeling sorry" for his then-pregnant wife. "I'm also really angry with myself that we're stuck in this situation. I was ashamed that it had got this bad. I was ashamed to go to my family because — to be honest with you, like a lot of other people my age could probably relate to — I know that I'm not going to get from my family what I need," he shares.
Harry also did not want his son Archie to possibly feel the same emotions as the ones he had during his royal life. "I then had a son, who I would far rather be solely focused on, rather than every time I look in his eyes wondering whether my wife is going to end up like my mother and I'm going to have to look after him myself," he says. "That was one of the biggest reasons to leave, feeling trapped, and feeling controlled through fear. Both by the media and by the system itself, which never encouraged the talking about this kind of trauma. Certainly, now I will never be bullied into silence."
Thus, Harry and Meghan stepped down as senior working royals last March and moved to California later that same year. And this February, Buckingham Palace confirmed the couple would not return as working royals.
In the third episode of The Me You Can't See, Harry shares the benefits of therapy, including dissecting his childhood as a public figure.
"One of the biggest lessons I've ever learned in life is you've sometimes got to go back and to deal with really uncomfortable situations and to be able to process it in order to be able to heal. For me, therapy has equipped me to be able to take on anything," he says. "That's why I'm here now. That's why my wife is here now. That feeling of being trapped within the family is ... There was no option to leave. Eventually, when I made that decision for my family, I was still told you can't do this."
Speaking about "breaking the cycle" of past generations, Harry emphasizes that he will not lose another loved one the way he lost his beloved mother. "My father used to say to me, when I was younger, he used to say to both William and I, 'Well, it was like that for me. So it's going to be like that for you.' That doesn't make sense — just because you suffered it doesn't mean that your kids have to suffer," he says.
"In fact, quite the opposite. If you suffered, do everything you can to make sure that whatever negative experiences that you had, that you can make it right for your kids. We chose to put our mental health first. That's what we're doing. And that's what we will continue to do. Isn't this all about breaking the cycle? Isn't it all about making sure that history doesn't repeat itself? That whatever pain and suffering has happened to you, that you don't pass on," he adds.
Prince Harry and Oprah Winfrey's mental-health docuseries, The Me You Can't See, will be available to stream on Apple TV+ starting May 20 at 9 p.m. ET.
If you or someone you know need mental health help, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.