When Princess Diana died in 1997, the world lost a beloved advocate and royal, but Princes William and Harry lost their mother. Now, 20 years later, Harry is opening up about his mental health struggles and how he came to grips with Diana’s death.
In a rare interview, Harry discusses how his mother’s death when he was 12 years old led to a period of what he called “total chaos” in his life, including a stint in a drug rehabilitation facility when he was 16.
“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 also my work as well,” he told The Telegraph in a podcast interview published Sunday.
Having to grieve his mother’s death was hard enough; doing so in the public eye made him come “very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions.”
It took 16 years before Harry sought professional mental health help — and it was William’s suggestion. Now 32, Harry says he’s in a good place after working with counselors and taking up boxing.
As part of the Heads Together initiative — jointly coordinated by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Harry with the aim to end stigma surrounding mental health — Harry gave a candid 30-minute interview on a podcast called Mad World where high-profile guests will discuss their mental health experiences.
Here’s why Harry addressing his mental health is so important.
1. Grief and mental health struggles really can affect anyone
Yes, the world may have mourned the loss of Princess Diana, but Harry handled it on his own time — and that’s OK. Grief knows no bounds and can affect anyone of any background — including royals.
2. There is no one “correct” way to grieve
Despite having access to some of the best resources in the world, Harry put off dealing with his mother’s death throughout his teens and most of his 20s. His grief 16 years after his mother’s passing is just as valid as the day she died, and the fact that he’s talking about it now — at 32 — sends a powerful message that mourning is an ongoing process, not something that ends after a memorial service.
“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?” Harry said in the interview. “[I thought] it’s only going to make you sad, it’s not going to bring her back… 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.”
3. Seeking professional help is not a sign of weakness
Harry talks about how it was his brother, William, who urged him to talk to a mental health professional about his challenges.
“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,’” Harry said in the interview. “The timing wasn’t right. You need to feel it in yourself, you need to find the right person to talk to as well.”
But he clarifies this, saying: “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.”
For anyone in the U.K. experiencing mental health problems, you can contact Heads Together by phone 0300 123 3393 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or text 86463.