In a series of interviews this year, Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, has made explosive claims against the royal family — the people and the institution — going into detail about the damaging toll his upbringing has had on his mental health.
Yet during some of these conversations, Harry takes on the role of revisionist historian, contradicting past statements he’s made about his mental health issues and the support — or lack thereof — he received from the royal family. The picture he paints is that of an uncaring institution ignoring his cries for help, of a man suffering in silence until Meghan Markle came into his life. But his past statements and what he’s saying now don’t always line up.
In recent interviews — specifically, the one he and his wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, gave to Oprah Winfrey in March, his appearance on the Armchair Expert podcast on May 13, and The Me You Can’t See, the new Apple TV+ docuseries he coproduced with Oprah, which premiered May 21 — Harry contradicts his past self by claiming that nobody in his family had encouraged him to seek help for his mental health or to speak about the issue openly, especially relating to the death of his mother, Princess Diana.
Harry experienced very public trauma as a teenager and through his young adult life — and he has since grown into a notable mental health advocate. Not only did his mother die in an extremely tragic manner, but the aftermath played out under the glare of paparazzi photographers and relentless press. Every move Harry and his brother made as young adults was scrutinized by the tabloids. As he got older, he branded himself as an ambassador of mental health awareness, later making a career out of his advocacy work. He championed the importance of mental healthcare, especially for fellow service veterans, for years as a royal and launched a nationwide mental health awareness campaign with Prince William and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. He has since coproduced Apple’s The Me You Can’t See series and recently joined BetterUp, a San Francisco–based career coaching tech startup, as its chief impact officer.
When asked for comment, a Sussex spokesperson drew a distinction between Harry’s private struggles and his public advocacy work and told BuzzFeed News that although he had sought mental health treatment before meeting Meghan, she was the catalyst for finding a therapist who could finally provide him with the care and support he needed.
The first of these contradictions are Harry’s recent claims in The Me You Can’t See that members of the royal family aren’t encouraged to speak about mental health — even though erasing the stigma around public discussions of the issue was one of the biggest causes he championed as a working royal.
The Me You Can’t See, which features stories about mental health from people around the world, began production while Harry and Meghan were working members of the royal family. The docuseries was officially announced April 10, 2019, on the @SussexRoyal Instagram in a statement that noted Harry’s “long-standing work on issues and initiatives regarding mental health, where he has candidly shared personal experience and advocated for those who silently suffer, empowering them to get the help and support they deserve.”
“I wasn’t in an environment where I was encouraged to talk about it either," Harry notes in the docuseries about beginning therapy, which he says he did four years ago. "That was sort of, like, squashed.”
Additionally, in May 2016, years before the docuseries was announced, Harry, along with his brother and sister-in-law, Prince William and Kate Middleton, launched the #HeadsTogether campaign. The initiative’s goal was to “end stigma around mental health” and “change the national conversation on mental wellbeing,” showing that working royals advocated for the cause.
“We do not want prejudice and fear to stand in the way of people getting the help they need to cope with life,” Harry said in a press conference announcing the new initiative. “The three of us — working with all [the charities] in this room and others who join us along the way — want to come up with practical ways of providing everyone who needs help with the right support and care.”
And in the following years, long before Harry stepped back as a working member of the royal family, he began speaking more about his own mental health, specifically as it related to the death of his mother.
On July 25, 2016, at a #HeadsTogether event at Kensington Palace, he said he regretted “not talking” about his mother’s death “for the first 28 years of [his] life.” He also added “anyone can suffer from mental health problems,” even “a member of the royal family.”
Then, on April 16, 2017, Harry spoke even more openly about his mental health issues, revealing in an episode of the Telegraph podcast Bryony Gordon’s Mad World that he’d sought professional treatment.
“I can safely say that losing my [mother] 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,” he said on the podcast. “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.”
Harry said that as soon as he started talking and thinking about Diana’s death, “all of this grief that I have never processed” came to the forefront and led to “two years of total chaos.” He also said in the podcast that “more than a couple of times,” he had spoken to a “shrink,” saying, “It’s great, and I can’t believe I’d never done it [earlier].”
And it wasn’t just Harry who was talking publicly about his mental health after the launch of #HeadsTogether. Kate has opened up the topic, specifically related to motherhood, admitting to feeling “mom guilt” when her work interferes with family time and saying she was “lonely” and “quite isolated” as a new mother. William has spoken about how the British “stiff upper lip” mentality can be damaging and how he sought mental health treatment during his time as an air ambulance pilot after responding to a traumatic incident “involving children.”
A spokesperson for the Sussexes acknowledged that Harry’s advocacy for mental health overlapped with his own recovery journey, but said it was beginning a relationship with Meghan (in July 2016), and finding a good therapist soon thereafter, that gave him the confidence to be even more open about his personal journey and a stronger advocate.
And yet this highlights another contradiction in Harry’s recent interviews: his claim that his wife was the person who encouraged him to seek treatment for his mental health — even though he has long credited William for making him realize that he needed to confront his emotions about the traumatic death of their mother.
On the Armchair Expert podcast this May, Harry said the moment that led to him starting therapy was “a conversation that I had with my now-wife.” When Oprah asked him in the docuseries if he started therapy “four years ago, only after meeting [Meghan],” Harry said yes, adding, “I quickly established that if this relationship was going to work, that I was going to have to deal with my past, because there was anger there.”
But Harry had previously stated that it was William who was the driving force behind his decision to begin treatment for his mental health. In the 2017 Telegraph podcast interview, Harry told Gordon, “It was only three years ago, funny enough, from the support around, and my brother and other people saying, ‘You really need to deal with this. It’s not normal to think that nothing has affected you.’”
“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,’” he said.
And in a video conversation between him, William, and Kate released for a #HeadsTogether campaign on April 21, 2017 — days after the Telegraph podcast episode dropped — Harry reiterated that it was his brother who had pushed him to confront his emotions about Diana’s death.
“I always thought to myself, What’s the point of bringing up the past? What’s the point of bringing up something that’s only going to make you sad? It ain’t going to change it. It ain’t going to bring her back. And when you start thinking like that, it can be really damaging,” he said. “You [William] always said to me, ‘You have got to sit down and think about all these memories,’ but for me, it was like, I don’t want to think about it.”
And in a recent article published May 14, royal reporter and commentator Angela Levin — who spent an extensive amount of time in 2016 and 2017 accompanying Harry to royal events and conducting interviews for a Newsweek story and eventual book, titled Harry: Conversations With the Prince — said he had explicitly told her in an interview “shortly before he got engaged” to Meghan in November 2017 that she wasn’t responsible for him seeking mental health treatment.
“Absolutely not,” Levin quotes Harry as saying in the recent Telegraph article. “She had nothing to do with it.” Instead, she writes, Harry told her it was William who was the impetus. Levin writes that Harry at first didn’t listen, but “in the end, though, he took his advice and added how grateful he was for the help.”
A spokesperson for the couple acknowledged that prior to and during the period of Harry's emotional struggles from ages 28 to 32 (which he described in The Me You Can’t See as “a nightmare time in my life”), his brother had encouraged him to seek assistance for his mental health. However, the spokesperson said, despite seeing mental health professionals during these years, Harry was unable to find the care he needed. The catalyst for finding a therapist that could provide that care was an argument with Meghan while they were dating (Harry describes this moment in the podcast interview and docuseries).
Harry noted in The Me You Can’t See that he initially rebuffed the concerns of “a couple of people close to [him]” who had encouraged him to seek help for his mental health, noting, “It’s all about timing.” He reiterated this in the May podcast, saying that “you need to feel it in yourself” to get treatment. Still, the omission of William’s influence in his recent public remarks is a sharp contrast to how he’s spoken about the topic in the past. BuzzFeed News has reached out to Kensington Palace for comment.
And finally, despite claiming in the docuseries that “every single ask, request, warning, whatever it is” about mental health “just got met with total silence or total neglect” from the royal family, at arguably his lowest moment as a working royal after his marriage — when Meghan told him that she was having suicidal thoughts — he did not ask for help.
In the joint Oprah interview, Harry admitted that although he was “terrified” after Meghan told him about her suicidal ideation, he said he didn’t go to anyone for assistance. Oprah asked, “Did you tell other people in the family, 'I have to get help for her, we need help for her'?” He replied, “No. That’s just not a conversation that would be had. … I guess I was ashamed of admitting it to them.”
Then, in The Me You Can’t See, he again said his “shame” kept him from asking for help when Meghan said she was having thoughts of suicide. “I was ashamed that it got this bad,” he said. “I was ashamed to go to my family. Because, to be honest with you, like a lot of other people my age could probably relate to, I [knew] that I [wasn’t] going to get from my family what I need.”
A Sussex spokesperson said that due to his family’s lack of support and action when he and Meghan asked them for help dealing with attacks from the UK media, and the fact that Meghan’s requests for inpatient mental health treatment due to her suicidal ideation were rebuffed by Palace officials, Harry, as he said in the docuseries, did not believe his family would be able or willing to help, so he did not go to them.