In this week's much publicised interview with Oprah Winfrey, the Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle revealed that she ‘just didn’t want to be alive anymore’. She went on to share in the interview that she opened up about this to her husband Harry and she tried to seek professional help for these suicidal ideations, but this was denied to her by members of the Royal Family because of how this may have appeared.
“It is very concerning that this stigma still surrounds mental health issues” comments Dr Maria Downs, Consultant Clinical Psychologist. “Sadly however, this is not uncommon and unfortunately this stops many people from seeking the help that they need. Meghan did absolutely the right thing in asking for help, and there should be no shame in admitting when you are struggling.”
What can people do if at first they are denied the help they need?
While Meghan’s situation may seem unusual, in that she was a member of the Royal Family, this is not uncommon to find that people do not receive the help they need the first time that they ask for it. “Friends and family members may find it difficult, may not understand and may be afraid of responding in a way that makes things worse” adds Maria. Appropriate mental health services may not always be available due to long waiting lists.
“I would say to anyone currently in need of help, do not give up seeking the services you require and speaking to people about the challenges that you are facing. If one GP is unhelpful, try speaking to another or reach out to a charity or organisation such as the Samaritans”. Details of charities and mental health services can be found on our website. “I would remind people that seeking help is a brave step and the right thing to do, and to not be discouraged by other people’s reactions.”
What should you do if someone tells you that they are suicidal?
In 2019 alone there were 5691 registered deaths by suicide in England and Wales, which is an average of 18 suicides per day (Samaritans, 2020). It is important to take anybody seriously when they tell you that they are having suicidal thoughts. “Sometimes just letting somebody talk to you about their worries and concerns can help them to feel heard and validated” Maria says. “This can help them to make sense of their experiences”. If the person continues to feel suicidal then help them to get support, by speaking to their GP, calling an out of hours service or contacting organisations such as The Samaritans on 126 113. If they are in immediate danger to themselves, call the emergency services on 999.
Following the broadcasting of the interview with Meghan Markle, many people in both the press and on social media came out to say they did not believe her. One such personality was former Good Morning Britain host, Piers Morgan who said ‘I don’t believe a word she said’. Others in the media shared similar views and social media users used terms including ‘liar’, ‘manipulative’, ‘acting’ and ‘attention seeking’.
Maria discusses how damaging this can be; “The phrase ‘attention seeking’ has negative connotations, but we all seek attention and as social creatures we need connection and attention from others. This is how we make sense of who we are, and our experiences and it is how we get our basic needs met. The question we need to ask is why this phrase has such negative connotations. Some people may struggle to hear about the difficulties of others because they themselves have suppressed their own needs and struggled in silence and not reached out to others.”
Such language is extremely unhelpful and deters people from reaching out and getting the help that they need. Comments like these, can reinforce for many people, the belief that they must keep their problems to themselves. Maria goes on to add “It is vitally important that when people are suicidal or struggling with their mental health that rather than keeping things in and struggling alone, that they speak to people and try to get help. In other words, what they absolutely should be doing is seeking attention”.
Where to get help
Crisis textline - Text SHOUT to 85258
Samaritans – Call 126 113, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Samaritans, 2020 Suicide Facts and Figures www.samaritans.org/about-samaritans/research-policy/suicide-facts-and-figures/