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Prince Harry accuses media of 'weaponising' mental health

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 28/05/2021 Telegraph reporters


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The Duke of Sussex has accused the media of “weaponising” mental health and perpetuating a negative stigma around psychological illness. 

Prince Harry was co-hosting The Me You Can't See: A Path Forward, a virtual town hall which featured discussion of mental health issues with experts from around the world.

It comes after he discussed his own anxiety, therapy and coping techniques for the series, which debuted last week.

At several points in the new episode, released on Apple TV on Friday morning, the Duke appeared to be reading from a prewritten script as he interviewed guests alongside Oprah Winfrey.

An arrangement of UK daily newspapers shows front page headlines reporting Prince William and his brother Prince Harry's accusations towards BBC in London, United Kingdom on May 21, 2021. BBC allegedly forged documents to interview Princess Diana, and Prince William and his brother Prince Harry accused the institution of ruining their mother's life. (Photo by Hasan Esen/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images) © Getty An arrangement of UK daily newspapers shows front page headlines reporting Prince William and his brother Prince Harry's accusations towards BBC in London, United Kingdom on May 21, 2021. BBC allegedly forged documents to interview Princess Diana, and Prince William and his brother Prince Harry accused the institution of ruining their mother's life. (Photo by Hasan Esen/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

In one apparently prewritten comment, he said: “It can be hard for people to not look at mental health through a negative lens, especially when some corners of the media weaponise it. 

“But I think mental health can and should be surrounded by a message of hope.”

The Duke also spoke about his “adverse childhood experiences” in an emotional discussion with Zak Williams, the son of Hollywood star Robin, who died from suicide in 2014.

Earlier in the series, Prince Harry revealed his traumatic experiences after the death of his mother, Princess Diana, and recalled how he was forced to grieve in public at her funeral in 1997.

After Williams told the Duke how having to grieve so publicly left him feeling vulnerable, Prince Harry said: “We have a lot of shared experience. When you talk about that… when you see so many people around the world grieving for someone… You feel as though they knew them better than you did, in a weird way, because you’re unable to grieve yourself. 

a man wearing a suit and tie: The Duke spoke about his grief after the death of his mother, Princess Diana - GETTY IMAGES © Provided by The Telegraph The Duke spoke about his grief after the death of his mother, Princess Diana - GETTY IMAGES

“It’s like: ‘How are you grieving more for someone who is my parent and I’m unable to grieve myself?’”

Later, the Duke told Williams that he wished his father was alive to see the “remarkable man that you’ve grown into” and congratulated Williams on overcoming his problems with alcohol.

It comes after Prince Harry admitted that he used alcohol in an attempt to block out the pain of losing his mother.

“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,” he told the series.

Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, arrive at the Endeavour Fund Awards in London, Britain, March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      SEARCH "GLOBAL POY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "REUTERS POY" FOR ALL BEST OF 2020 PACKAGES. © Reuters Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, arrive at the Endeavour Fund Awards in London, Britain, March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY SEARCH "GLOBAL POY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "REUTERS POY" FOR ALL BEST OF 2020 PACKAGES.

Supporting Meghan through suicidal thoughts

The Duke also spoke about suicide during the episode and said he now feels better equipped to respond to someone who is considering ending their own life.  

Prince Harry admitted in an earlier episode that he did not know how to react when his wife, Meghan, told him in 2019 that she was feeling suicidal.

In the new episode, Prince Harry revealed that he learnt how to offer support.

“So many people are afraid of being on the receiving end of that conversation because they don't feel like they have the right tools to give the right advice,” Prince Harry stated.

“But what you want to say is you're there. Because listening and being part of that conversation is without doubt the best first step that you can take.”

Prince Harry talking on a cell phone: The Duke of Sussex was co-hosting a TV show for Apple - GETTY IMAGES © GETTY IMAGES The Duke of Sussex was co-hosting a TV show for Apple - GETTY IMAGES

Climate change 'linked' to mental health


Video: Biggest bombshells from Prince Harry’s mental health docuseries (The Independent)

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In the 94-minute town hall, the Duke also said that climate change and mental health are “the two most pressing issues” society is facing.

In a conversation with Winfrey, he said: “I believe even more that climate change and mental health are two of the most pressing issues that we're facing and, in many ways, they are linked.

“The connecting line is about our collective well-being and when our collective well-being erodes, that effects our ability to be caretakers of ourselves, of our communities and of our planet ultimately.

“We have to create a more supportive culture for each other where challenges don't have to live in the dark, where vulnerability is healthy and encouraged and, of course, where physical and mental health can be treated equally because they are one.”

'Us and them'

Much of the episode was devoted to the global mental health crisis caused by the Covid pandemic and the Duke said that the coronavirus crisis had forced people to understand the widespread need for mental health support.

“Pre-Covid, there was probably a situation of an ‘us and them’ when it came to mental illness,” Prince Harry said. “And now I think it’s just ‘us’. 

African psychologist hold hands of girl patient, close up. Teenage overcome break up, unrequited love. Abortion decision. Psychological therapy, survive personal crisis, individual counselling concept © Getty African psychologist hold hands of girl patient, close up. Teenage overcome break up, unrequited love. Abortion decision. Psychological therapy, survive personal crisis, individual counselling concept

“The world has experienced the same thing but in a different way and a unique circumstance.” 

He added: “So many people around the world seem to think that it’s either ‘nothing’, or ‘mental illness’. And this area in between is arguably where we all are. 

“And if we weren’t acknowledging that pre-Covid then we sure as hell are coming out of Covid.”

'As parents we feel shame'

The Duke also spoke about the “shame” that people sometimes feel when their loved ones reveal they are suffering with mental health problems.

“As parents and as siblings there’s an element of shame that we feel because we’re like… ‘How could we not have seen it? How did we not know? How did you not feel comfortable enough to come to me and share that with me?’" the Duke said.

“But we all know that, when people are suffering or struggling, that we’re all incredibly good at covering it up.”

Earlier in the series, the Duke spoke extensively about his struggles with mental health and his disconnect with his family’s attitudes to the subject.

In the town hall, he also said that social norms make it harder for people to talk about their issues.

“We live in a society where we’re willing to accept that suffering is so much a part of life,” Prince Harry said. 

Paper man surrounded by Coronavirus and economy news headlines © Getty Paper man surrounded by Coronavirus and economy news headlines

“But we’ve created a society where we’re almost forbidding, or making it hard for people to talk about and share that suffering.”

In one part of the show, the Duke and Winfrey spoke to Glenn Close, who opened up about the impact of Covid-19 on her wellbeing.

She said: “It has directly affected my mental health. It helped that I had a dog.

“I think - and I was thinking about this today - we have gone through an amazing, unprecedented time now. For me, I think it's as big a shift in the world as 9/11 was.”

Close also spoke about supporting her sister, Jessie, through bipolar disorder.

The Duke thanked Close for her “incredibly powerful” testimony.

Glenn Close arrives to the 93rd Academy Awards, at Union Station, in Los Angeles, U.S., April 25, 2021. Chris Pizzello/Pool via REUTERS © Reuters Glenn Close arrives to the 93rd Academy Awards, at Union Station, in Los Angeles, U.S., April 25, 2021. Chris Pizzello/Pool via REUTERS

Society 'making us sicker'

Prince Harry also spoke to experts about the ways in which parents can support their children and prevent harm to their mental health while accusing society of “making us sicker”.

The Duke and Meghan are living in California with son Archie and are awaiting the birth of their second child.

The Duke identified “gaming”, “social media” and “isolation in front of screens” as negative influences on children’s mental health and said that many parents “don’t feel equipped to be able to deal with these problems”.

Prince Harry's relationship with his father, the Prince of Wales, brother, the Duke of Cambridge, and the rest of the Windsors has been brought into question following his frank remarks and his and Meghan's bombshell sit-down interview with Winfrey earlier in the year.

He asked: “How can we collectively, as society, prepare and make parents feel more comfortable and better equipped to be able to deal with the daily stresses, or the daily unknowings of what your children are going through, growing up in this world that we’ve allowed to be created which I believe is making us sicker?

“If these huge global issues are going to continue — and to some extent we’re addicted to it, be it social media — then what we really need to do is change society’s willingness to actually talk about these things.”

It comes after the Duke last week accused the Royal family of "total neglect" and of "bullying him into silence" as he said the Prince of Wales had told him that as he had suffered, his sons would suffer too.

The Samaritans offer support and advice to people feeling suicidal or vulnerable 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Their website is https://www.samaritans.org, email address jo@samaritans.orgor call free on 116 123

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