“Once you start talking about it, you realize that actually you’re part of quite a big club.” So says Prince Harry, 32, who has opened up in a British newspaper podcast interview about his mental health struggles and how he is dealing with them.
Harry spent 10 years in the British Armed Forces, including two operational tours in Afghanistan where he commanded Apache helicopters, and achieved the rank of captain. None of his military training and experiences, however, prepared him for the severe emotional challenges he faced due to the tragic death of his mother Princess Diana in 1997 when he was just 12 years of age.
In an interview with Britain’s Daily Telegraph, Harry revealed that he sought professional counseling after two years of “total chaos” in his late twenties. He described how he only began to address his grief at age 28 after feeling “on the verge of punching someone” and experiencing anxiety during royal engagements. He says he is now in a “good place.” He credits his elder brother, Prince William, for being a “huge support.”
Excerpts from the interview with Bryony Gordan’s “Mad World” podcast this week:
“I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well.
“I have probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions when all sorts of grief and sort of lies and misconceptions and everything are coming to you from every angle.
“The experience I have had is that once you start talking about it, you realize that actually you’re part of quite a big club.
“My way of dealing with it was sticking my head in the sand, refusing to ever think about my mum, because why would that help?
“[I thought] it’s only going to make you sad, it’s not going to bring her back.
“So from an emotional side, I was like ‘right, don’t ever let your emotions be part of anything.’
“So I was a typical 20, 25, 28-year-old running around going ‘life is great,’ or ‘life is fine’ and that was exactly it.
“And then [I] started to have a few conversations and actually all of a sudden, all of this grief that I have never processed started to come to the forefront and I was like, there is actually a lot of stuff here that I need to deal with.
“It’s all about timing. And for me personally, my brother, you know, bless him, he was a huge support to me. He kept saying this is not right, this is not normal, you need to talk to [someone] about stuff, it’s OK.
“The timing wasn’t right. You need to feel it in yourself, you need to find the right person to talk to as well.
“I can’t encourage people enough to just have that conversation because you will be surprised firstly, how much support you get and secondly, how many people literally are longing for you to come out.”
British mental health experts praised Harry for speaking up so openly about seeking professional help for his mental health struggles. Sir Simon Wessely, the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, went so far as to say that the prince had achieved more in communicating mental health issues in the 25-minute podcast than Wessely had in a 25-year career.
Since retiring from the armed forces in 2015, Harry devotes much of his time to charity work. He is involved with Heads Together, which brings together The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry in partnership with charities tackling stigma, raising awareness, and providing help for people with mental health challenges. He also focuses on the welfare of servicemen and women, championing developmental opportunities for hard to reach children, and African conservation. In 2014, Harry created the Invictus Games, an international adaptive sporting event for wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women.