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Harry and Meghan show us when it comes to trauma, we still don’t understand it

We’ve given a lot of lip service over the past three years to the importance of taking care of our mental health. We have acknowledged that COVID-19 has taken an emotional toll, that we are lonely, fragile and precarious.

Such depression is so universally recognized that governments set up suicide hotlines, companies set aside mental health days, and this week, a panel of medical experts recommended that doctors screen all people under 65 for anxiety.

However, when Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, publicly clasped their hands after the death of their grandmother Queen Elizabeth II, social media trolls emerged from their humid caves in force, shamelessly disgracing them for this public display of affection, calling them their own. Emotionally needy and attention-seeking narcissists.

What I say to these cyberbullying and cynical TV pundits is this: Shame on you.

Overall, the widespread reaction to Harry and Meghan shows that when it comes to trauma, we still don’t understand it.

Building better ways to deliver mental health services is a good thing. Raising awareness of the scale of burnout and the stress of isolation is a good thing. Hotlines and mental health days are useful structures for people who need and use them.

The problem is that these things don’t require anything from us. They don’t force us to look inside ourselves to see how we can lessen the pain of others. They don’t turn our attention inward to counter our mentality and language when we label suffering people as “high maintenance,” “dramatic,” or “extremely sensitive.” They don’t make us hang our heads in shame because of our lack of empathy.

Moving toward a healthy society requires that we all begin the journey. We should honestly look at our reactions to another person’s weakness and pain. We should dust off our kindness and compassion and use them to remove our own contempt and cruelty.

Talking about the importance of luxury is not enough.

I understand how difficult it is to understand another person’s inner turmoil. Anxiety, depression, sadness, and post-traumatic stress are injuries we don’t often see. It can be very difficult to empathize with the trauma and its consequences if you have not experienced trauma before.

However, this is no excuse for harsh criticism of Prince Harry for extending his loving hand. This epithet says something about the commentators who threw it, and nothing about Prince Harry.

In this moment, we don’t need to extend ourselves to empathize with something we haven’t experienced. We don’t need to imagine how Harry might feel. He told us in rough, raw, tender detail in his documentary series, I Can’t See It.

Remembering his mother’s funeral when he was a boy, Harry said he clearly remembered the sound of horses’ hooves hitting the sidewalk as he followed behind his mother’s coffin. He continues to share the mental, emotional and physical suffering he endured long after the day of the funeral.

“Every time I put on a suit and tie, I had to do the part… Before I left the house, I was sweating, my heart rate was… I was in a fight-or-flight mode… Panic attacks, extreme anxiety… I freaked out every time I jumped a car and every time I saw a camera…”

This is an amazing element of the traumatic experience that Harry explained. It doesn’t “end” the way other events do. Fears and memories come in an uncharted rush, often driven by a sensory experience: the noises of horses’ hooves on the sidewalk; An image that you see flashes before your eyes decades later; An amazing reaction to a scent you wish you could forget.

Twice in the past 18 months, Harry has been forced by royal pomp and circumstance to reenact his trauma.

In April 2021, members of the royal family were called upon again to show their own grief after the death of Prince Philip. Prince Harry has said publicly that he had a panic attack on his way back to London for the funeral.

This week, Harry returned to London to mourn his grandmother. Once again, duty asked him to repeat the exact same experience that had shocked him as a child and then for decades of his life. If he had failed in his duty, if he had chosen to avoid reenacting the trauma of a public march behind the coffin of someone he loved, criticism would have buried him.

So he kept calm and carried on.

Looking at what he told us, given what we know about his inner life up to that point — the racing heart rate, the panic, the emotional screams he’s struggling to let go — imagine the energy it took to grieve this new loss. Imagine the fortitude it would take to keep it all in check, along with the inevitable memories of the past on international television that were watched live, once again, by millions of people.

And so he extended his wife’s hand.

The princes, movie, sports and music stars who have shared their traumas with us deserve our deepest gratitude for pulling the veil off, enabling us to understand – if we care enough to do so – this form of human suffering.

If we change the way we see it, we will change the way we treat it. Then we can truly enter a new era of health and healing for all of us. Getting there requires an emotional and emotional journey that each of us must take from within. No lasting change will happen until we do.


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