In a new video released by the royal family, Prince William chats with Lady Gaga over a FaceTime call. But the two covered more serious ground than a typical catch-up between friends: The British heir to the throne and the pop star were talking openly about mental illness.
Lady Gaga has been vocal about her experiences with depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder. “I feel like we’re not hiding anymore,” she says in the video. “It’s time to talk.”
In response, William agrees: “It’s time that everyone speaks up and really feels very normal about mental health. It’s the same as physical health. Everybody has mental health.” Through his UK-based charity, Heads Together, William, along with his wife, Kate, and brother, Harry, is spearheading efforts to shatter the stigma of mental health.
Hopefully, the pair’s message will inspire people not to be ashamed about their own mental health issues. “It’s courageous and altruistic for public figures to share personal experiences with mental illness,” says Joseph Goldberg, MD, a psychiatrist. “It helps destigmatize common problems like clinical depression or anxiety disorders and can serve as a way to prompt people in the community to seek help.”
Prince Harry Opens Up About His Mental Health
A couple of days before the video came out, Prince Harry spoke about how he decided to seek counseling at age 28 to help him cope with grief over the death of his mother, Princess Diana.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Harry, now 32, says the loss of his mother in 1997 caused him to shut down emotionally. “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?” he says. “It’s only going to make you sad, it’s not going to bring her back.”
What he’s describing is known as avoidance, and it is a common response to trauma or tragedy when pain can be overwhelming, says Saundra Jain, PsyD, a psychologist. But this approach seldom helps. “The feelings may temporarily remain dormant, but eventually they resurface and we’re forced to deal with them,” Jain says.
That’s what happened to Harry in his late 20s, when he went through 2 years of what he calls “total chaos.” “I couldn’t put my finger on it, I didn’t know what was wrong with me,” he says. Then, “all of a sudden, all of this grief that I’d never processed came to the forefront.”
Signs You May Need to Seek Help
Everyone reacts to trauma, like the death of a loved one, in different ways, Goldberg explains. So rather than judge your coping strategies as “right” or “wrong,” ask yourself whether they’re helping you adapt, he suggests. Some signs that your strategies aren’t working for you: trouble sleeping; problems maintaining your responsibilities at home, work, or in social situations; new or increased tensions in your marriage or other relationships; and substance abuse. Also, be aware if you’re having trouble "moving forward" and integrating your loved one’s legacy into your life going forward, or worrying constantly that your life has no future, Goldberg says.
If you feel stuck or unable to move past a trauma, it’s important to talk to someone about it, says Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD, a psychologist. It’s best to seek professional help, but opening up to a trusted family member or close friend can also help, as long as it’s a safe space.
Harry credits William for supporting him in talking about his feelings when he was ready. And he notes everyone's timetable and needs are different: “You need to feel it in yourself. You need to find the right person to talk to as well.”
Like William and Lady Gaga, Harry wants to encourage others to simply have that first conversation. You’ll be surprised at how much support you get, he says. “The experience I have had is that once you start talking about it, you realize that actually you’re part of quite a big club.”