Time magazine has named Harry and Meghan as members of the one hundred most influential people of 2021. Sadly people are mocking both Time and the couple as being unworthy of such an honor. I would like to submit that not only are they in fact incredibly influential, but also rather courageous for bringing a discussion of mental illness into the public consciousness. The mere fact that people view their honesty as a kind of selfish weakness is proof that we are not yet ready as a society to deal with mental illnesses in a rational and productive way.
We all know that Harry was only twelve years old when his mother, Diana, died. He has often spoken of how traumatic that event was for him. He has spent much of his life attempting to deal with the scars that her death left with him. For the most part he was forced to combat his fears and sorrows alone because our world seems to believe that children are so flexible that we need not worry much about their reactions to tragedy. Furthermore, we are all expected to adapt to challenges with a stiff upper lip, and this would be even more true for Harry given his royal background. The truth is that he is still dealing with the backlash of his enormous loss. In speaking publicly of his torment he hopes to let people know that their own trials and fears are worthy of attention, respect and therapy.
Harry is aware of his mother’s struggles with mental illness as well. She attempted to be as honest as he has been and was often degraded because she brought her issues to light. She was a beautiful woman who married a future king and as such she was expected to be perfect, always in control of her emotions. Her mental afflictions made it impossible for her to be so. She suffered in the public eye. In many ways she was destroyed by the general refusal of society to accept that mental illnesses are real, not the imagination of weak individuals. They afflict individuals regardless of their status in life. For the most part they make people feel uncomfortable, and so as a whole we do not want to talk about them. We nervously shun anyone who broaches the topic the way Harry and Meaghan have begun to do.
Frankly, I believe that are doing a great service to the world at great personal cost. They both know that their honesty has generally resulted in insulting backlash and yet they persist. They are willing to endure the negativity to present an important message about the presence of mental illness in the world and the lack of understanding associated with it. For this they should be resoundingly commended.
I have often written about my father’s death and my mother’s bipolar disorder. For decades I hid those things from even close friends. They have been stunned to learn that I was only eight when my father died. They did not realize that much of my shyness and quirky behavior stemmed from the fear of death that I felt as a young child. Because nobody ever talked with me about what had happened I know for certain that I still retain unresolved issues. I am different than I might have been and different from others as well. Keeping my feelings under wraps only compounded the frightening feelings that haunt me even to this day.
Eventually my mother became overwhelmed by the symptoms of bipolar disorder. I became her caretaker at the age of twenty. I spent the next forty years finding doctors for her, making sure that she took her medications, putting her back together after psychotic episodes. It was daunting, but what made it even worse is that I did not feel comfortable sharing her story and mine with others. The few times I tried I sensed the discomfort in my confidant. I realized that people cringe with discussions of mental illness. I mostly kept the truths of my life to myself and I often felt so alone.
When my mother died ten years ago I went public just as Harry has done. Some people have been very supportive. Others have backed away, unwilling to listen to the horror of mental illness. I have written many blogs on the topic. I have completed a book. I sob just thinking about the impact that mental illness has on the victim and the families. I understand exactly what Harry is attempting to tell us. I know that it is something that he believes is important. I realize that he hopes to once and for all time being mental illness out of the shadows of indifference, fear, and myth. I too pray for these things because I have seen the destruction of a beautiful human being, my mother, first hand.
I applaud anyone who broaches the topic of mental illness. It is not a sign of weakness. It is not a selfish act. It is not a way of getting attention. It is incredibly hard to do because those of us who attempt such conversations know all too well that we are driving many people away when we try to educate others on the realities of this dread disease. I tip my hat to Harry while I also chide those who would be cruel enough to ridicule a man who has endured so much sorrow and sincerely wants to help others. We won’t ever be where we need to be with mental illness until there comes a time when everyone applauds Harry rather than mocking him. He is indeed a prince of a man, and I believe that his mother would be quite proud of him.