TW: self-harm, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders.
On the 8th of March 2021, Oprah with Meghan and Harry aired on ITV in the UK. In this shocking interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, the couple opened up about their reasons for leaving for the royal family. In the personal revelations which followed, it couldn’t help but bring to mind Princess Diana’s Panorama interview in 1995. The overwhelming impression left by both women in this instance is clear: marrying into the royal family took a horrendous toll on their mental health.
The parallels between Meghan and the late Princess Diana are unmistakable. Here we see two young women, completely unprepared for the realities of the job, left isolated, alone, overwhelmed by media attention (and media abuse), left with no support, and expected to get on with it.
Princess Diana’s Panorama interview, aired on the 20th of November 1995, revealed that the Princess had suffered with post-natal depression following the birth of Prince William, which led to a perception within the family that she was ‘unstable’ and ‘mentally imbalanced’. The lack of support or basic compassion which followed made the situation worse, with the Princess self-harming her arms and legs, and suffering from bulimia for a number of years.
Meghan Markle also revealed the detrimental effect that the stress and isolation had on her mental health, stating that things were so bad during her pregnancy with Archie that she ‘didn’t want to be alive anymore’. Moreover, Meghan was denied any access to help or support because ‘it wouldn’t be good for the institution’.
The intense scrutiny, pressure, invasiveness, loneliness, and lack of support all make sense. The media have been a parasitic and intrusive presence for a long time. We know this. Diana was literally chased to her death by paparazzi in 1997, aged just 36. Living in the age of social media now can only have made this worse. It is unsurprising that this would be detrimental to anyone’s mental health, especially with the added influence of racism in the case of Meghan Markle.
Moreover, the Monarchy is an institution which is hard wired for self-preservation above all else. For the most part, the policy of the monarchy is silence, and waiting out crises until everyone moves on. They have to maintain this stoic façade of harmony – the fairy tale – because revealing anything less might threaten their very existence. We cannot forget that in the 21st century, monarchies are very much the exception. In the cases of both Diana and Meghan, it is unsurprising that they would be expected to just get on with it and discouraged from speaking out, let alone seeking help.
The British press, the institution, and the royal family itself have failed both Diana and Meghan. When asked what the simple reason for the Sussexes leaving the royal family was, they replied that it was both to get away from the UK Press and due to the lack of support available to them. Their leaving was preventable and, ultimately, is a sign of history repeating itself.
It is evident that being members of the royal family has taken its toll on these women who have married into it. This life has been detrimental to their mental health, while simultaneously failing to provide the adequate support to help them, and the British media should take equal blame for their harassment. And yet, over 20 years after the death of Diana, it begs the question, why haven’t they learned anything?