Why it is vital you believe someone who says they have suicidal thoughts following Meghan Markle's revelation

·Contributor, Yahoo Life UK
·10-min read
Meghan Markle opened up about having suicidal thoughts in her interview with Oprah Winfrey. (Photo by Harpo Productions/Joe Pugliese via Getty Images)
Meghan Markle opened up about having suicidal thoughts in her interview with Oprah Winfrey. (Photo by Harpo Productions/Joe Pugliese via Getty Images)

Mental health experts have underlined the importance of believing someone who says they're having suicidal thoughts following Meghan Markle's revelation about her own feelings.

The Duchess of Sussex told Oprah Winfrey that she had “methodical” thoughts about taking her own life.

“You were having suicidal thoughts?” Oprah asked during the two-hour interview, which first aired on US TV on Sunday 7 March.

“Yes. It was very clear and very scary,” Meghan responded. “I just didn’t see a solution.”

She went on to say she felt "really ashamed to have to say it at the time" and ashamed to have to admit it to her husband, Prince Harry, particularly as she knew how much loss he had suffered.

“But I knew that if I didn’t say that I would do it... and I just didn’t ― I just didn’t want to be alive anymore. And that was a very clear and real and frightening constant thought.”

Read more: Male suicide rate highest for 20 years: How to help if someone is struggling

Despite her obvious upset while recalling her experiences, some viewers on social media questioned the validity of Meghan's claims.

And on Good Morning Britain Piers Morgan also queried the Duchess' heartbreaking revelation that she sought help as she considered taking her own life.

"Who did you go to? What did they say to you? I’m sorry, I don’t believe a word she said, Meghan Markle," the breakfast host said. "I wouldn’t believe it if she read me [the] weather report. The fact that she’s fired up this onslaught against our Royal family I think is contemptible."

His comments prompted mental health charity Mind to issue a Twitter statement declaring how important it is that people are believed when opening up about their own mental health struggles.

“It’s vital that when people reach out for support or share their experiences of ill mental health that they are treated with dignity, respect and empathy,” the charity wrote.

Watch: Meghan Markle had suicidal thoughts during first pregnancy.

As pointed out by many of those defending Meghan, publicly dismissing someone's claims of being suicidal can have a wider impact in deterring others from seeking help for fear of not being believed.

“Anyone can have suicidal feelings," explains Stephen Buckley, head of information at Mind.

"The reasons for suicide are complex and will vary from one person to another. People can find it difficult to talk about suicidal feelings, sometimes because they’re worried about the reactions of others or because they can’t find the words to express themselves.

"They might hide how they are feeling and convince loved ones they are coping."

Read more: Meghan Markle defended against those who don't believe she suffered suicidal thoughts

It is important to listen when someone discusses their mental health struggles. (Getty Images)
It is important to listen when someone discusses their mental health struggles. (Getty Images)

According to Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, it takes courage for someone to reach out and share that they're struggling.

"That’s why it’s really important to listen and be validating of their distress," she explains. "Even if this isn’t something you can relate to personally, try to understand that for some people it can feel like a way out of a life that doesn’t feel worth living."

Someone who understands first hand the importance of taking suicidal thoughts seriously is Esther Marshall, a diversity and inclusion expert, mental health activist and the author of the Sophie Says children’s books series.

Marshall lost her sister to suicide last year and she is on a mission to improve mental health education. In March 2020, she met the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to discuss her mental health work at the Commonwealth Day Service.

After being diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her early twenties, Marshall's sister suffered through manic and depressive episodes, and early last year she took her own life.

Having seen first-hand the tragic consequences of a lack of mental health support, Marshall is now fighting to provide young people with the resources they need to cope.

"It is imperative that you believe someone if they say that they are having suicidal thoughts," she tells Yahoo UK. "My sister told me three times that she had suicidal thoughts over the course of five years and last year she went through with those thoughts and we lost her way too early at the age of 28."

Marshall says that when someone is feeling suicidal it means they have got to a very dark place.

"If they are brave enough to come and tell you about it, you must believe them – this is their cry for help and we must do everything we can to help them get out of that dark place," she continues.

Read more: Jesy Nelson admits to 'mentally bullying' herself - how to spot if you're doing the same

While it may feel overwhelming if a friend or family member has relayed these thoughts to you, Marshall says it's important to know you aren't expected to take them out of that dark place, as there are medical practitioners to help with that.

"However, the fact that they have come to tell you means you are someone they trust and you should be by their side championing them to get to a better and happier place," Marshall adds.

"When someone is having suicidal thoughts, trust is one of the most important factors at play and one of the best ways that you can support someone going through this dark time."

From her own personal experience Marshall has put together some tips to support someone who says they are experiencing suicidal thoughts:-

  • Always maintain eye contact. Don’t expect that they will maintain it back, they will usually be looking down but you want them to know you are there and for that one second that they look up you want to be there looking right back at them

  • Constant reassurance is key. Constantly telling them that you believe them and that you are there for them no matter what.

  • You may want to leap in and give them the biggest hug possible but some people going through these dark thoughts may not want that, some will. Always ask before going into their personal space as they may see it as an invasion of their space or they may welcome it. By asking this also builds trust.

  • No distractions – I know we are all incredibly busy but when someone comes to you and tells you that they are having suicidal thoughts, ensure your phone, laptop and TV are all off. This shows them that you are fully there for them with no other distractions.

Mental health experts hope that in sharing her own experiences of suicidal thoughts, Meghan Markle might help help others struggling with their own mental health feel less alone.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, says the charity has found that when celebrities and high profile individuals speak publicly about their own mental health problems, it can help inspire others to do the same.

"Sharing personal experiences of poor mental health can be overwhelming, so it’s important that when people do open up about their mental health they are met with understanding and support," he says.

“Our research found that 25% of people said hearing a celebrity talk openly about their own mental health had inspired them to seek help or get support for themselves.

"In turn, more than one in three of those asked said seeing celebrity mental health stories had prompted them to start a conversation with a friend or loved one about mental health, showing how the power of celebrity can be a real force for change in how we all think and act about mental health problems."

Mind says they recognise the importance of the Duchess of Sussex sharing her mental health experiences.

"Too often, feelings of shame and isolation mean people affected by mental health problems go without the help and support they need and deserve," Farmer continues.

"Despite positive changes, we know when people do speak out, even today, too many people face discrimination across different areas of their lives – in the workplace, from family and friends, education, and from the health service.

"Positive improvements in people’s attitudes to mental health are something to celebrate, but we all still have a role to play to reduce mental health stigma and discrimination.”

Mental health experts have outlined the importance of believing someone with suicidal thoughts. (Getty Images)
Mental health experts have outlined the importance of believing someone with suicidal thoughts. (Getty Images)

What to do if you’re feeling suicidal or think a loved one might be

According to Buckley if you, or someone you love is experiencing suicidal thoughts, it’s important to seek help.

"With treatment and support, the majority of people who have felt suicidal will go on to live fulfilling lives,” he adds.

  • If you’re feeling suicidal, and you don't feel you can keep yourself safe right now, seek immediate help. Go to any hospital A&E department, or call 999 and ask for an ambulance if you can’t get there yourself. Keep yourself safe by removing any means of taking your own life while you learn how to cope with suicidal feelings.

  • If you’re worried someone you live with might harm themselves, stay with them and help them get emergency help.

  • Lots of people fear talking about suicide, but speaking about suicide responsibly is important and doesn’t increase the risk that someone will take their own life. So continue to reach out – although it might not be possible to see loved ones face-to-face, regularly checking in - by text, email, phone or video call - can really help.

  • If someone is feeling suicidal, reassure them that it is possible to do something to improve their situation in a caring and sympathetic way. It takes a lot for someone to say "I need help", but it doesn’t hurt to raise the subject yourself. Sometimes you don’t have to explicitly talk about mental health to find out how they are doing– it can be as simple as texting them to let them know you’re thinking of them, listening to them non-judgementally and asking them what you can do to help. You may feel pressure ‘to say the right thing’ but listening compassionately can help them feel less isolated and frightened.

  • It can be very distressing when someone is in crisis or experiencing suicidal feelings. It’s important to take care of yourself. See Mind’s info on How to cope when supporting someone else.

  • If you can’t see loved ones in person, it might feel even more difficult to reach out for help. But any contact could help someone who is suicidal feel less alone, and there are organisations that can help which are open and there for you:

- The Samaritans provide a free, confidential, 24-hour phone support available by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org. You don’t have to be suicidal to ask The Samaritans for help.

- For information, support and advice about mental health problems and where to get support, visit Mind’s website at www.mind.org.uk or call Mind’s Infoline on 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9.00am to 6.00pm).

- Side by Side is a safe, moderated online peer support community where people aged 18+ with mental health problems can share their story, connect with others and access Mind’s wider information and resources www.sidebyside.mind.org.uk

- Shout is the UK’s first 24/7 text service, free on all major mobile networks, for anyone in crisis anytime, anywhere. It’s a place to go if you’re struggling to cope and need immediate help: www.giveusashout.org

Watch: How are people reacting to Harry and Meghan's interview.

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