- Research has shown that the number of people who seek mental health support increases after a celebrity discloses their own experiences with a mental health condition.
- In a CBS interview with Oprah, Meghan Markle talked about having depression and suicidal thoughts while pregnant.
- Experts say Markle’s openness about her experiences could very well help others see how common these issues are.
Despite the fast-growing rates of anxiety and depression reported over the past few years, mental health continues to carry a strong social stigma that prevents people from seeking treatment and asking for help.
Due to the negative attitudes, many people experiencing poor mental health symptoms feel ashamed and alone in the world.
Simply hearing someone else talk about their own mental health issues — be it a close friend or celebrity on the international stage — can have a profound and lasting impact.
Evidence has shown that the number of people who seek mental health support increases after a celebrity discloses their own experiences with a mental health condition.
Now a blockbuster interview with former members of the British royal family has been making headlines after Meghan Markle talked about her mental health crisis.
“I just didn’t want to be alive anymore — and that was a very clear and real and frightening constant thought,” Markle said in the interview with Oprah that aired on CBS.
Following the interview, headlines about depression and suicide ideation have soared.
Experts say Markle’s openness about her experiences with depression and suicidal thoughts could very well help others see how common they are, no matter who you are or what your life might seem like.
“Normalizing having any conversation about mental health right now is critical because we need to be able to say, ‘This is what I’m dealing with, this is what I’m feeling.’ It gives space for it, it allows other people to hear what you’re dealing with,” said Dr. Jessica Gold, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
“It allows you to also say it out loud, it allows your feelings to be heard and validated, and it allows you to find a way to cope with them,” she said.
Fighting mental health stigma
An intense stigma is still attached to mental health in our society.
Stigma and discrimination come in all shapes and forms. They can affect a person’s ability to find work, be in a supportive relationship, secure housing, and be included in social plans.
It often prevents people from getting the help they need, prolonging recovery and leading to worse outcomes.
Research suggests that by opening up about their own mental health issues, celebrities like Markle can help shed light on how common mental health issues are.
Their stories can help normalize and destigmatize mental health conditions, and inspire people to seek help.
And this isn’t just limited to royals.
In the United States, researchers found that fans of singer Demi Lovato, who has been vocal about her bipolar disorder, have fewer negative stereotypes about the condition.
When people see themselves in someone else and can relate to their experiences, it can help them feel less alone.
Seeing that someone like Markle deals with depression and suicidal thoughts suggests this is a pretty normal experience, said Gold.
“There are many people who struggle with this, so if she can talk about it, she’s opening up a conversation for others to do the same,” said Dr. Danielle Hairston, a psychiatrist and psychiatry residency program director at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
We don’t talk about suicidal thoughts very often, said Gold. And when we do, most public conversations revolve around the aftermath of suicide, dissecting what caused a person to die by suicide.
“We tend to not talk about the fact that people attempt suicide and survive, or people have suicidal thoughts and get help, or that it’s possible to get help,” Gold said.
Hairston said Markle, who embodied vulnerability and strength in the interview, has the potential to decrease mental health stigma.
“She may help someone to speak their truth,” Hairston said.
Shaping the path for people of color
Markle’s openness can also help pave the way for people of color, who generally face greater barriers and worse discrimination and stigmatization for mental health issues.
The Black community faces higher rates of depression and anxiety but often lacks access to mental healthcare.
“Many mental health providers have cash-only practices, and this is not a feasible or affordable option for many people. The majority of psychologists and psychiatrists in this country are not people of color,” Hairston said.
Approximately 1 in 3 Black Americans who have a mental health condition will receive treatment.
“Meghan Markle is a person of color who is describing struggles that many women of color experience across the country and world. She is describing a situation that many women can relate to. This may encourage other women to do the same,” Hairston said.
Taking the first step
Saying you need help is the first step, but it’s often not an easy one to take.
Reach out to a loved one you trust and feel comfortable with. Let them know you need support.
If you have health insurance, Hairston recommends contacting your insurer and finding a mental healthcare provider who can recommend treatment options.
Those who don’t have insurance can find free or low cost options in most cities. Hairston recommends searching local academic hospitals and social media groups.
Gold recommends asking a friend or family member to help you find a therapist who is accepting new clients.
“Depression makes it really hard to have the energy to call a bunch of therapists and leave messages,” Gold said.
If you aren’t having suicidal thoughts now but have had them before, Gold suggests putting together a plan that includes coping strategies and actionable steps you can take.
“Even if you’re not having a mental health struggle, chances are someone you care about is. People need to feel supported, not be shamed,” Hairston said.