It was a moment that caught even the most avid watchers of the royal family off-guard.
“I just didn’t want to be alive anymore,” Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, told Oprah Winfrey in a blockbuster interview that aired on CBS on Sunday night. Meghan went on to talk openly about the suicidal thoughts she had while pregnant with her son Archie. “That was a very clear and real and frightening constant thought,” she said.
She highlighted a photo of her and Harry taken at a Cirque du Soleil show the day after she opened up to Harry about her suicidal thoughts. Harry told her that he wasn’t sure she should attend, but she insisted, telling her husband “I can’t be left alone,” she recalled to Winfrey.
She drew Winfrey’s attention to a particular part of the photo, in which her hand is clasped tightly with her husband’s. They were both just trying to “hold on,” Meghan said.
Meghan’s candid disclosure about her mental health issues were striking to many, particularly her remarks about suicide ideation. Many took to social media to express shock at her revelations, as well as gratitude for her honesty. For such a high-profile woman to open up about mental health allows those struggling with depression and suicide ideation to feel seen, many said. Experts added that it could potentially save lives.
Among them was Alfiee Breland-Noble, a psychologist and founder of the Aakoma Project, which provides free virtual therapy for teens and young adults, with a particular focus on young people of color.
While Meghan’s case is highly specific, there’s a lot of benefit to hearing her talk so frankly about depression and suicide, said Breland-Noble — doing so brings mental health “out of the shadows.”
Breland-Noble, who has studied mental health disparities for more than 20 years, said she was acutely aware of how Meghan’s identity as a multiracial Black woman shaped her experiences, both in the isolation she faced within the royal family and the bullying she received from the British tabloids.
She noted that this was consistent with 2017 data from the National Institute of Mental Health, which found that biracial and multiracial adults were most likely to experience a major depressive episode that year, compared with other racial and ethnic groups. About 11.3 percent of these adults reported having a major depressive episode.
The pandemic has only elevated mental health issues, including depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And younger adults, as well as Latino and Black Americans, have experienced disproportionately worse mental health outcomes because of barriers to care.
“When you come from a marginalized population, you already have different weights on you. You’re already carrying a lot in terms of burden and trauma,” Breland-Noble said. “When you look at a person like Meghan, who’s one of the most high-profile women in the world, that exacerbates all of those issues of identity to an intimate degree.”
“No one wants to add a mental illness label on top of that, and then be further marginalized,” she continued.
Suicide ideation — thinking about, considering or planning a suicide — can be particularly hard to talk about. Many different kinds of thoughts can fall under suicide ideation, from actively planning and visualizing your death to more nebulous feelings, like longing for the relief of simply not existing. Many women — particularly women of color — are conditioned to place other people’s needs above their own, Breland-Noble said. Because suicide is often associated with selfishness, she continued, suicidal thoughts can be particularly sensitive for them to disclose, even if they desperately need help.
When Jasmine Barnes, 25, watched the interview Sunday night with her roommate, she “literally got full body chills.”
Barnes, who works at an education nonprofit in Chicago, said she hasn’t experienced the severe depression that Meghan described. But as a Black woman, the lack of protection Meghan talked about resonated deeply with her.
“There’s just such a lack of empathy for what it means to be a Black woman, a woman of color, charting paths, charting a new way,” she said. Meghan’s case was highly specific, and while Barnes couldn’t relate to the lack of autonomy Meghan described when trying to get mental health help, Barnes felt she could understand Meghan’s fear and frustration when she was discouraged from seeking inpatient care.
“You could be in danger and no one’s going to come. No one’s going to acknowledge your pain and no one’s going to come and do anything — I can definitely relate to that,” Barnes said, pointing to the mistrust many people of color experience in health-care settings in particular.
The same notion spoke to Lyra Hale, a 32-year-old editor living in New York City who tweeted her support for Meghan after the interview last night.
“That was scary and resonated with me because I’m Latina. We keep things close to our chest,” Hale said.
Hale was struck by the isolation Meghan recounted, because she had seemed to Hale like other celebrities: bright, bubbly and “infallible,” she said. Witnessing Meghan talk about her pain so bluntly felt grounding and inspiring.
“If Meghan can go on Oprah, I can talk with my friends and family” about mental health, Hale said.
Like many who watched the interview, Sarah Minnis, 49, found herself in tears when Meghan shared her thoughts of suicide.
“That part really hit because I’ve been there,” said Minnis, an assistant professor in North Carolina who helps veterans transition out of the military.
Twenty years ago, Minnis lost her first baby in a stillbirth. It was “incredibly traumatizing,” but Minnis felt the urge to downplay her feelings, she said. Her family was also suffering, Minnis said, and she didn’t want her despair to burden them. She had always prided herself on being strong and confident. Still, Minnis found herself saying, in her own head, over and over: “I don’t want to be here anymore.”
When she finally opened up to someone else, she felt an enormous relief: She was no longer alone.
Minnis said she was taken right back to that moment when Meghan relayed her own trauma: “I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anyone else say that as clearly and openly and articulately on that kind of platform.”
Like Breland-Noble, Minnis believes that Meghan’s interview could save lives. The telecast commanded an average of 17.1 million viewers over two hours in the United States alone, the Los Angeles Times reported, making it the most-watched non-sports program since the 2020 Oscars.
Breland-Noble was most heartened that such a wide audience not only heard people who “have everything” talk about mental health, but that Meghan and Harry modeled what people should do when in a mental health crisis: Seek help.
Our shift toward talking more openly about self-care has been gradual, and is still a relatively recent phenomenon, said Breland-Noble. Many people are overwhelmed and unsure of what to do when they’re in a mental health crisis.
“What she’s telling people is exactly what you want people to do,” Breland-Noble said. Even when they were turned away, she and Harry kept going, kept speaking out and kept seeking help until they found a solution.
“When you’re in that crisis, critical moment of need, open your mouth and tell someone you need help,” Breland-Noble said. “Do not suffer in silence. If people got nothing else from that interview, I hope those are the messages they will take away, because they’re so important.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). You can also text a crisis counselor at 741741.