How Prince Harry became a mental health champion

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·Royal Correspondent
·5-min read
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Watch: Apple TV+ to stream Oprah and Prince Harry’s mental health docuseries

Prince Harry's long awaited mental health documentary in partnership with Oprah Winfrey has finally been given a release date.

The Duke of Sussex first announced plans for a mental health programme with the US chat show host in 2019, and it now has a premiere date of 21 May.

Harry, 36, has a long history of mental health activism and support, and it's set to be a key issue he continues to focus on through Archewell, the organisation he runs with wife Meghan Markle.

He first opened up about his own mental health difficulties four years ago, and he has encouraged others to seek help too.

The Me You Can't See is a documentary by Prince Harry and Oprah Winfrey. (Apple TV)
The Me You Can't See is a documentary by Prince Harry and Oprah Winfrey. (Apple TV)

Back in 2017 he said: "I have probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions when all sorts of grief and...lies and misconceptions and everything are coming to you from every angle."

During the interview with journalist Bryony Gordon, he revealed that he had sought counselling to deal with the death of Princess Diana 20 years earlier.

Harry explained that he “shut down” his emotions for two decades, but thanks to seeking help, he was in a “good place” again.

Harry said it was his brother, William, who pushed him to get help, pointing out that some of what he was feeling was “not normal”.

Four years on, the work that started with personal counselling has led to a very public conversation, as Harry will open up to Winfrey about his mental health "journey and struggle".

Launching the five-part Apple TV series, Harry said: "We are born into different lives, brought up in different environments, and as a result are exposed to different experiences. But our shared experience is that we are all human.

"The majority of us carry some form of unresolved trauma, loss or grief, which feels – and is – very personal. Yet the last year has shown us that we are all in this together, and my hope is that this series will show there is power in vulnerability, connection in empathy, and strength in honesty."

Watch: Queen's Speech: Action on obesity and mental health support - but no social care legislation

Refuting the idea that it is Meghan who has changed Harry, The Telegraph's Gordon wrote: "Those close to Harry know that he had long been open to the shift we now see in him. The blinkers that are attached by necessity when you are born into the Royal family had always been badly fitted on him, a little bit wonky.

"The Me You Can’t See, those close to him say, is a result of the Duke’s efforts to broaden his perspectives."

She also said that his new base of California is a "spiritual home" for the duke as well as a physical home, because of the openness in speaking about therapy.

But Harry's mental health journey does have royal roots. Before he married Meghan, he and his brother and sister-in-law, Prince William and Kate, launched Heads Together, to start a conversation about mental health.

In a conversation between Harry and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the duchess praised the brothers for the way they had coped with the trauma of losing their mother Diana, with both of them agreeing they had not spoken about her enough.

Harry said he had not wanted to think about it, because he felt that talking about what happened wouldn't change anything.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 21: The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry are spearheading a new campaign called Heads Together in partnership with inspiring charities, which aims to change the national conversation on mental wellbeing. The campaign has the huge privilege of being the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon Charity of the Year. At Kensington Palace on April 21, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Nicky J Sims/Getty Images for Royal Foundation)
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry launching their Heads Together project in 2016. (Nicky J Sims/Getty Images for Royal Foundation)

The four of them, then including Meghan, voiced an advert for the NHS in 2019, for a campaign called Every Mind Matters. 

Later in 2019, he reflected again on his mental health, during a documentary which followed him and his wife Meghan Markle on their tour in South Africa.

He admitted he struggled with being in the limelight as his mother was, given that she died after being followed by paparazzi.

He said: “I think being part of this family, in this role, in this job, every single time I see a camera, every single time I hear a click, every single time I see a flash, it takes me straight back, so in that respect it's the worst reminder of her life, as opposed to the best.”

He mentioned his battle with the press again in February 2021 during an interview with James Corden in LA, as he said the British press were "destroying my mental health".

INGLEWOOD, CA - MAY 02: Prince Harry gives remarks at the Vax Live concert at SoFi Stadium on Sunday, May 2, 2021 in Inglewood, CA. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Prince Harry speaks at the Vax Live concert at SoFi Stadium on 2 May 2021 in Inglewood, CA. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Speaking about why he gave up his royal duties, he said: "It was a really difficult environment as a lot of people saw. We all know what the British press can be like. And it was destroying my mental health. I was like, this is toxic."

Mental health is also part of Harry's day job now, since he took on the role of chief impact officer at BetterUp, which is a mental health and professional coaching start-up based in San Francisco.

Writing in a blog on the firm's website after the job was announced, Harry referenced his decade in the military as the source of his passion for good "mental fitness", and said "focusing on and prioritising our mental fitness unlocks potential and opportunity that we never knew we had inside of us".

With a commitment from Harry and his wife Meghan to "public service" and a solid foundation, expect to see much more about good mental health from the Duke of Sussex.

Life Edit
Life Edit
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