Mental health continues to be an increasingly important topic in our society, and one that is always up for debate. Particularly in our current climate, with the effect that lockdown has taken on many people’s wellbeing, surely, we as a society, would think to have a better understanding of how to broach and address such a topic.
On the surface, it would appear that we have made some sort of progression in how we view mental health issues – with celebrities such as Roman Kemp and Jesy Nelson creating documentaries on their own personal struggles to help better normalise and open the discussion of mental health in the media. However, the continued treatment of Meghan Markle in the tabloid news industry unfortunately suggests otherwise.
After Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s relationship was announced in 2016, and their subsequent engagement in 2017, Meghan has been a constant headline in the tabloid press. From constant comparisons to her sister in law Kate Middleton, to criticisms of her fashion choices, a large portion of Meghan’s news coverage carried a negative tone. It is easy to imagine the damaging effect the continuous negative media coverage could have on Meghan’s mental health, and she opened up about her feelings concerning this in her recent interview with Oprah in March of this year.
Meghan admitted that her mental health deteriorated so much after joining the Royal Family that she suffered from suicidal thoughts, saying in the interview that ‘I knew that if I didn’t say that (to Harry), I would do it (hurt myself)… and I just didn’t want to be alive anymore. That was a very clear and real and frightening constant thought.’ She also said that officials at the Palace told her she was no longer allowed to meet friends outside and had to stay at home, cutting off her support system completely.
These revelations shocked the world after the interview aired, and despite the damaging effects Meghan clearly stated the negative media pieces had on her, they still continued – Piers Morgan, on Good Morning Britain, said he ‘didn’t believe a word of it’ (this resulted in 40,000 complaints to Ofcom shortly after). This reaction to Meghan’s admission of her mental health struggles opens up a bigger discussion – why does mental health still get such a trivialised and adverse depiction in today’s media?
You would think, that as a society, we had learned to treat people’s confessions of mental struggles more delicately, after the likes of Meghan Markle coming forward, and the shared grief after the incredibly sad deaths of people such as Caroline Flack. Yet the narrative of ‘attention seeking’ still pervades our headlines, as shown with the reactions to Meghan.
Mental health is an incredibly important issue; suicide is still the biggest killer for men under the age of 45. One of the ways we can try to prevent this problem from getting any worse is re-constructing the way we choose to portray it in our media, for the large basis of so many people’s opinions is formulated from what they consume in either the press or the television. All forms have media have suffered criticism for disseminating negative stereotypes and sometimes inaccurate depictions of those suffering with mental illness. Consequently, these portrayals need to be revised in order to help a more positive and accurate view towards mental health in the future.
It is easier said than done to suggest a radical overhaul of a portion of our society’s current attitudes towards mental health, but is incredibly important to ensure that we can work towards a more positive environment where mental health is no longer seen as a taboo subject and is no longer attached to these harmful stereotypes. It is a cause that we as a society should strive towards, so that talking about your own personal issues becomes less frightening and more comforting. Whether this be through increased teaching on mental health and its effects, or by encouraging a more positive environment on social media that is less rooted in comparison, any change towards the current depiction has the possibility to be seen as a positive one.