On Meghan Markle and Mental Health

TW: Suicide, Rape

Seconds.

That’s all it took for the internet to be littered with hot takes.

“Spoiled rich girl.”

“Princess wants to play victim.”

“Are we supposed to feel sorry for the millionaire?”

The steady drip of comments splashed my feeds, slow and slight at first, then progressively quicker and more substantial until they cohered into an ocean of hate.

It was dizzying — an utterly confounding reaction to a vocal cry for help.

Sure, there were portions of the interview where Meghan Markle’s complaints rang a bit hollow. Having to Google the national anthem of the country you seek to serve, for example, seems a small price to walk amongst royals.

But isn’t that sort of catastrophizing characteristic of those experiencing depression? Isn’t the tendency to exaggerate the difficulties you face emblematic of the struggle?

If you believe that you lack support, for example, and feel that you’ve been thrown to the wolves, it would not be uncommon to interpret subsequent pieces of evidence in a light most favorable to that belief. Even if it doesn’t necessarily comport with reality.

I mean, we’ve all been there, to varying extents. Thrust into a situation where a single hit taken alone would have seemed inconsequential, but taken in concert with others of greater import, it threatens to knock you sideways.

Death by a thousand cuts.

So yes, I will concede that some of her complaints, at times, seemed trivial. But only if we ignore that they were part of a larger problem.

After all, an otherwise insignificant piece of matter nonetheless threatens to upend the scale when the scale is already loaded to the brink — the material heft of the object failing to match its operative weight.

Excess water vapor, no matter how microscopic, still forces an air mass to condense over when it has reached its saturation point.

And these practical and scientific principles are no less applicable to mental health.

So I reject the idea that Markle’s struggles were negligible on the whole, simply because they were flanked by more trivial trials.

Because racism is not negligible. Isolation is not negligible.

And I refuse to lose sight of the fact that this woman experienced a deluge of hate at a time when she was publicly feuding with her father and was being prevented from so much as seeking the comfort of friends at a lunch, simply because she made a few more minor complaints in between.

I also refuse to dismiss her struggles because she experienced them from a place of relative privilege.

So much of the criticism directed toward her in the wake of the interview revolved around her financial and social status.

But there is no socioeconomic status that has a monopoly on pain, nor a socioeconomic status that is immune to suffering. In fact, while those at the lowest income levels are disproportionately represented in suicide data, so, too, are those at the highest.

And you needn’t look any further than the annals of history for evidence.

Robin Williams.

Anthony Bourdain.

Kate Spade.

Kurt Cobain.

The list is long and serves as proof that good financial fortune does not inoculate one against pain.

I know this firsthand.

I have always weathered adversity pretty well. Being raped and held hostage at gunpoint when you are a child will do that. After that, there’s not much that can phase you.

Until a parent dies.

I will never forget the months following my father’s death. I would sit on my bed and look out the windows of my apartment to the waters of the bay beyond and wonder, for a second here and a minute there, what it would feel like to climb over the railing of my balcony, drop twenty stories, and meet the ground below.

Would my dad be waiting for me on the other side?

These thoughts would keep me out of my apartment most nights. I didn’t have the mental or emotional energy to engage in small talk with friends most days, but I was also hesitant to be alone with my feelings. So I would graze on food at the bar of a restaurant and linger until sleep beckoned me home.

It was also at this time that I had the most disposable income. The inheritance from my dad afforded me the opportunity to buy a home and pretty much anything else that struck my fancy.

And yet.

I struggled. More than ever before.

Because money, contrary to popular thought, does not buy happiness. It does not shield one from hurt. Does not temper the sting of loneliness.

And I am honestly shocked by the sheer number of people who have dismissed Markle’s struggles wholesale, simply because she could call herself Duchess at the time or because she inked a Netflix deal in the aftermath. It displays a remarkable lack of empathy and understanding of mental health.

Yes, she had resources. But what good are resources if you cannot use them to secure help? What good is a title if it prevents you from moving freely through life? What good is notoriety if it draws racist ire and then isolates you from your support system? What good is money if you are prevented from using it on needed therapy?

Markle left everything that she knew to move to a foreign land where her every move was criticized right down to her consumption of avocados. Her new family cared more about appearances than her, and that indifference extended to her child. Throughout, racist attacks littered every nook and cranny of traditional and digital media, exposing her to a barrage of unwarranted aspersions.

The resulting pain was plainly evident to me in that interview. It could be found in the catch of her voice. In a smile that pinched short, failing to reach the eyes.

Yes, many around the world have it harder than Meghan Markle. But this isn’t the Depression Olympics. We needn’t dismiss her pain in order to validate the struggle of others.

Because her pain, while maybe more abstract or more difficult to understand than the woman grieving a terminal diagnosis or the man living in poverty, is still real. And it costs us nothing to be sensitive to that, whether we personally understand it or not.

At one point during the interview, Markle explains that she and Prince Harry had a scheduled event at the Royal Albert Hall on the same day that she told him that she was having suicidal thoughts. Harry had told her that he wasn’t sure that she could still go. Her response? “I can’t be left alone.”

I cried at that moment of the interview. I cried for Markle. And I cried for 2012 Jen. Because I know that feeling. I know how what it is to force yourself to leave the house amid significant emotional turmoil, because you are scared to be alone with your thoughts.

And that moment made her pain real to me in a way that it maybe didn’t for others who don’t have that shared experience.

So the next time you feel inclined to disparage Markle or her pain, consider that there might be someone on your timeline who has experienced something similar. There might be someone who is experiencing it right now. And if you can’t find it in you to muster a little bit of sympathy for her, at least try to do so for them.

As I said, it costs nothing for us to be kind or to be sensitive to the plight of others. But the alternative? To dismiss their pain? To write it off as a foreseeable consequence of their decisions? As a small price to pay for their privilege?

That costs some people their lives.

And I will not play a part in the transaction.


If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please reach out to a trusted friend or family member or to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.

There is nothing that we cannot surmount together.

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Comments (1)

Renda

Love you, Jen. Great article. -Renda

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