Prince Harry has disclosed that he sought counselling after two years of “total chaos” while still struggling in his late twenties to come to terms with his mother’s death.
The prince said in an astonishingly frank interview with the London Daily Telegraph that he “shut down all his emotions” for almost two decades after losing his mother, Princess Diana, despite his brother, Prince William, trying to persuade him to seek help.
Disclosing he has spoken to a professional about his mental health, Harry described how he only began to address his grief when he was 28 after feeling “on the verge of punching someone” and facing anxiety during royal engagements.
Describing the “quite serious effect” that losing his mother had on his personal and professional life, he said living in the public eye left him feeling he could be “very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions”.
“I can count myself very lucky,” he said. “It was 20 years of not thinking about it and two years of total chaos.”
Now aged 32, he turned to counsellors and took up boxing. He is now in “a good place”.
Harry gave the unprecedented insight into his past in the hope it will encourage people to break the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
Harry, William and Kate have together driven Heads Together, a charity which promotes mental well-being.
Harry, who was 12 when his mother died, said he spent his teenage years and twenties determined not to think about her.
“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 my work as well,” he said.
Of life in the public eye, he said: “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.”
Asked whether he had been to see a “shrink” to “let it all rip”, he said: “I’ve done that a couple of times, more than a couple of times, but it’s great.”
Harry admitted he had struggled with anger issues and turned to boxing as an outlet.
“During those years I took up boxing, because everyone was saying boxing is good for you and it’s a really good way of letting out aggression,” he said.
“That really saved me because I was on the verge of punching someone, so being able to punch someone who had pads was certainly easier.”
He eventually sought support with the encouragement of his brother and others close to him, who told him: “Look, you really need to deal with this. It is not normal to think that nothing has affected you.
“The experience I have had is that once you start talking about it, you realise that actually you’re part of quite a big club,” he said.
“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? [I thought] it’s only going to make you sad, it’s not going to bring her back.
“So from an emotional side, I was like ‘right, don’t ever let your emotions be part of anything’. 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 all of a sudden, this grief that I have never processed started to come to the forefront. I was like, there is actually a lot of stuff here that I need to deal with.”
Before learning to talk about his thoughts, he struggled to understand them. “I just couldn’t put my finger on it,” he said. “I just didn’t know what was wrong with me.”
Even at royal engagements, he said, he had found himself battling a “fight or flight” reaction without knowing why. Once he started opening up to friends, he added, he found those same friends felt able to “unravel their own issues”.
Of his current focus on mental health, he said: “What we are trying to do is normalise the conversation to the point where anyone can sit down and have a coffee and just go ‘you know what, I’ve had a really s*** day, can I just tell about it? Because then you walk away and it’s done.”
“Because of the process I have been through over the past two and a half years, I’ve now been able to take my work seriously, been able to take my private life seriously as well, and been able to put blood, sweat and tears into the things that really make a difference and things that I think will make a difference to everybody else.”
Mental health experts have praised Harry’s revelations.
Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said the prince had achieved more in terms of communicating mental health issues in a 25-minute interview than he had in a 25-year career.
“He has a reach across the world that people like me can only dream – he will have communicated in a way that I have been working all my life to achieve,” he said.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of UK’s Mind charity, said the interview would have a huge impact. “It’s inspiring to see Prince Harry speaking out about his experiences. It shows how far we have come in changing public attitudes to mental health that someone so high-profile can open up about something so difficult and personal,” he said.
“Prince Harry speaking so candidly is a true turning point that shows that as a society we must no longer adopt a ‘stiff upper lip’ attitude and that we need to talk openly about mental health, something that affects us all directly.”
“Prince Harry sharing his experiences of mental health issues and the counselling he sought as a result of losing his mother will have helped change attitudes, not just at home but also overseas.
“It was a dream of mine 20 years ago that we’d see the royal family join sports people, music stars, politicians and business leaders as well as everyday people in sharing their mental health experiences in all sorts of communities,” she said.
WHERE TO FIND HELP
In New Zealand, Youthline provides a range of services for young people, and there are heaps of ways to get in touch. Wherever you are in the country, you can get in touch for free by phone (landline or mobile), TXT and email. The helpline is open (24hrs a day/365 days a year) and the TXT support service is open between 8am and midnight. Free TXT 234. Free phone 0800 376633. Email [email protected]
In Australia, Lifeline provides people experiencing a personal crisis with access to online, phone and face-to-face crisis support and suicide prevention services. Call 13 11 14 (24/7), chat online or find local services at lifeline.org.au