When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle spoke to Oprah about Meghan’s struggle with depression, I found it refreshing, but not necessarily shocking. My friends speak openly about mental health topics such as looking for a therapist or the frustration of keeping medication for anxiety and depression consistent while changing insurance providers. I’ve grown up in an age where discussing mental health is akin to talking about a broken bone or Crohn’s disease: it’s something uncomfortable that might take a year to heal, or a lifetime of management. Our generation knows how to talk about mental health and related topics like depression, therapy, and suicide — even if it’s personal.
I did not realize how fortunate I am to move through spaces where mental health is another aspect of life, something to share that is personal but not obscenely intimate. My personality lends itself to storytelling, and I’ve shared aspects of my own journey with grief and health both privately and publicly.
Imagine my shock, then, when a friend recently told me that my anxiety was the result of a lack of perspective.
She suggested that the key to my problems was simply to exercise, hang out with friends, or get a pet. “Maybe you haven’t seen enough suffering yet,” she told me.
Referencing Meghan’s interview, my friend mused that “a lot of anxiety and depression nowadays stems from the fact that people have it too good and don’t know what else to do.” She said to ask myself, Does anxiety or depression serve a purpose? She had done so and decided it didn’t, so she “overcame” it.
“Feeling a bit down is not a mental health issue,” she said, and went on to explain that anyone who is not a refugee cannot possibly have a legitimate mental health issue.
This hurt, of course, and left me a bit dumbfounded. But it is revelatory that there are still people who consider mental health concerns to be a product of our environment that can be dealt with privately, without the aid of a doctor, medication, or wider community. So let’s be crystal-clear: Balanced mental health is not determined solely by attitude, stamina, or force of will.
Meghan asked a senior royal member of the family for medical help with her mental health, and it was denied. Imagine if Meghan had shared that she felt a lump in her breast and was denied a mammogram. There is no difference between these two requests: Someone is asking for help in regards to their body functioning properly. Chemicals in the brain or chemicals in breast tissue — these things deserve professional attention because of our human dignity. Royalty, riches, privilege, education, marital status, and age have no bearing on the worthiness of the request for proper mental healthcare.
Sometimes we experience a mental health issue akin to a sprained joint — it can be cared for at home and will heal with time. You take ibuprofen for a sprained ankle and perhaps sunshine, conversation, or rest helps you get well mentally or emotionally.
But a mental health diagnosis can be as debilitating as a fractured bone, or a bacterial infection that needs months of specific chemicals to rebalance the immune system, or a chronic disease that has gone untreated for years and requires doctors, specialists, and medication. It is not shocking or strange to acknowledge this — it’s how bodies work. It would be silly to question someone going to a physical therapist after tearing their ACL. Why, then, would we allow members of our community to feel any sort of shame when mentioning a psychiatrist?
Anyone can get cancer. Anyone can have anxiety. Anyone can be in a car accident. Anyone can develop depression. No matter how much we’d like to exert perfect control over the synapses in our mind that tell our serotonin when and where to move, that is just not how health works. That’s not how bodies work.
It is absolutely possible to lead a healthy mental lifestyle alongside a healthy physical one, but even marathon runners can develop a heart arrhythmia, and joyful moms and dads can have depression.
Meghan and Harry made mental health a centerpiece in the conversations unfolding this week in the media and interpersonally. That is a benefit we can all share. Let’s keep that conversation going.
We can all help prevent suicide. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free, and confidential support for people in distress; prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones; and best practices for professionals. Call 1-800-273-8255.