As the world struggles to cope with the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the royal family have revealed they are not immune to the mental health issues facing everyone in isolation.
“The last few weeks have been anxious and unsettling for everyone,” the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge said in a statement.
“Self-isolation and social distancing can pose huge challenges to our mental health … We have to take time to support each other and find ways to look after our mental health.”
Meghan and Harry also revealed how deeply the pandemic has affected them.
“These are uncertain times,” they posted on Instagram. “And now, more than ever, we need each other … for truth, for support, and to feel less alone during a time that can honestly feel quite scary.”
In Denmark, Princess Mary – a vocal advocate for mental health – said “we all have a role to play” in helping overcome social isolation.
“If you live alone … the feeling of loneliness can become very violent,” said Mary, 48, who is patron of the SIND (Danish Association for Mental Health) and Denmark’s Psychiatric Association.
“For people who already feel lonely, this period can exacerbate the feeling of loneliness … we must make a special effort to help each other out of solitude – even if it is at a distance.”
The young British royals have been speaking candidly about their mental health for many years in their community work. In 2016, William, Kate and Harry made huge strides in breaking down the stigma of speaking about mental wellness when they launched the Heads Together campaign.
They have been dedicated to the cause ever since, publicly discussing their most vulnerable moments and defying centuries of British royal tradition of showing a “stiff upper lip”.
“I just couldn’t put my finger on it,” Prince Harry, 35, told journalist Bryony Gordon in
a podcast in 2017, revealing his life was in “total chaos” for two years, and he suffered panic and rage attacks.
“I just didn’t know what was wrong with me. [I was] very close to total breakdown on numerous occasions when all sorts of grief and lies and misconceptions are coming to you from every angle,” he said of the psychological effects of losing his mother in 1997.
“I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well. I thought that thinking of her was only going to make me sad and not going to bring her back.”
He added that he underwent therapy at the advice of his family, and encouraged others to do the same.
“Then I started to have a few conversations,” he said. “All of this grief that I have never processed started to come to the forefront and I was, like, ‘There is actually a lot of stuff here that I need to deal with.’”
Prince William, 37, has also opened up about the trauma he experienced as an air ambulance pilot when Prince George was a baby.
“I still find it very difficult to talk about it, I get very emotional about it because it relates very closely to my children,” he said.
“I was dealing with a lot of trauma on a day in, day out basis, stuff that your body’s not programmed to deal with, there’s just no way it is.”
He hoped to inspire others to talk about their feelings, just as he did at the time.
“I know if I hadn’t taken the action that I did then, I would have definitely gone down the slippery slope and I would have been dealing with mental illness on a different level.”
William said there is no need to struggle in silence.
“We all [go through emotional turmoil]. It’s just that few of us speak about it,” he said. “Catherine and I are clear that we want both George and Charlotte to grow up feeling able to talk about their emotions and feelings.”
Mental wellness was a focus of Meghan and Harry’s visit to Southern Africa visit last year.
“Mental health touches on so much of what we’re exposed to … everyone of us has experienced trauma at some point in our lives,” the prince said in the documentary Harry and Meghan: An African Journey. “We need to learn from previous generations so it’s not a perpetual cycle.”
In the same program, Meghan, 38, was asked about her own mental wellbeing, and said she was not OK.
“I’ve said for a long time to H … it is not enough to just survive something. You’ve got
to feel happy and I think I really tried to adopt this British sensibility of a stiff upper lip,” she said.
“I really tried.”
This year Meghan, Harry and their friend Oprah Winfrey will produce a documentary series about mental health – a topic which is more important now than ever before.