Mental Health Experts Praise Meghan Markle for Revealing Suicidal Thoughts

Mental health campaigners have praised Meghan Markle for revealing she suffered suicidal thoughts after the British tabloid press targeted her.

Markle told Oprah Winfrey in a CBS interview that aired on Sunday that she "didn't want to be alive anymore" when she was a member of the royal family, and confirmed that she had in the past considered ending her life.

Her comments drew fresh attention to the issue of suicide, which is a leading cause of death in the U.S., accounting for around one death every 11 minutes in 2019 according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the U.K., where Markle was based at her time of crisis, official figures show almost 6,000 people died by suicide in 2019 alone.

Mental health advocates said the Duchess was "brave" for being open about how she felt.

Simon Gunning, the CEO of U.K.-based mental health charity CALM, told Newsweek: "Recent events serve as a timely reminder that no one should suffer in silence, and that we must continue to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide.

"One of the hardest and bravest things anyone can do is talk about their own suicidal thoughts and whatever the circumstances, those thoughts should not be diminished or discounted. And as more and more awareness is brought to the issue, we see first-hand how this can have a positive impact by empowering people to reach out for help."

Dr. Antonis Kousoulis, director of the U.K.-based Mental Health Foundation, told Newsweek: "Having a much loved high-profile public figure opening up about getting help for her suicidal thoughts can definitely raise awareness and help people not feel alone and isolated.

"Mental illness and suicide touch many lives and happen for a complex range of reasons. Meghan Markle's story clearly shows how behind statistics, there are people with their own lives and their own set of circumstances. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, opening up about how you are feeling can be the first step to getting help."

U.K.-based mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin told BBC Breakfast: "There's lots of high profile people who have spoken about anxiety and depression, but to hear someone talk about their suicidal thoughts—I think it's so brave and so courageous."

Rachel Lucynski, crisis services business operations manager at the Huntsman Mental Health Institute in Utah, told Deseret News: "I think it was so brave and important what Meghan Markle did, which was talking about her own personal struggles."

She said: "I think a lot of stigma still exists around having struggles with mental health and people thinking that any type of mental health challenge or mental illness is a personal defect or flaw."

Leading figures in mental health also used Markle's revelation to encourage those who are experiencing suicidal thoughts to urgently seek help.

Marjorie Wallace CBE, founder and chief executive of the mental health charity SANE, told Newsweek: "The comments by the Duchess of Sussex highlight how important it is to seek help before suicidal feelings may reach crisis point."

ALAN Method for the loved ones of those with suicidal thoughts

Ask open questions, such as "how are you doing?". Give the person time to open up if they need. It's okay to say you're worried, or that you're not sure how to start the conversation but you wanted to see if they're okay. Asking is the very first step in breaking down that wall and making a connection in someone's time of need.

Listen. Once you've asked a question, make sure you actually listen to the answer. Be patient and let them say what they need. Try to just listen, rather than attempting to solve any problem. Lots of people just need to vent—and even by chipping in with advice you could unintentionally cut them off or dismiss their feelings.

Action. Create a plan of action to get them feeling better. It's a good idea to set SMART goals—tasks that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. So rather than a general "I want to feel happier," break that goal down into more manageable chunks; say, calling and booking a doctor's appointment by this time next week, or planning to meet up again this coming Friday. Let your friend know what support is out there and arrange a time for you to check back in.

Network. Let them know they're not in this alone. Build a support network of friends, family, and professionals (a doctor or a therapist, for example) so that the person struggling knows they have people they can turn to in any situation.

She said: "We believe strongly that most people do not want to end their lives, but can no longer tolerate the idea of carrying on feeling trapped and isolated in their own minds. Our own research shows that some people attempt to take their own lives because of 'suicidal exhaustion,' due to their daily struggle with despairing thoughts. But the majority of people who survive an attempt tell us they are glad they have a second chance."

A spokesperson for the U.K.-based charity Samaritans told Newsweek: "We know that many people struggle and feel overwhelmed with life's challenges, and sometimes they may feel like they have nobody to turn to, but there is support out there and talking can be life-saving. It's really important that anyone who is struggling reaches out for help, whether it's with a colleague, a family member, a friend or a confidential helpline like Samaritans."

During the CBS interview, Prince Harry told Oprah that he felt shame about his wife's suicidal thoughts, and said he had "no idea what to do."

Dunning said those who are worried about a loved one feeling suicidal can try what is known as the ALAN method to start a conversation, shown above.

Laura Peters, head of advice and information for Mental Health UK, told Newsweek those worried about someone's mental health should not ignore their instincts.

"Encourage them to talk about how they're feeling, try to listen without judgement and remember you don't need to offer solutions—reminding them that you're there for them and signposting them to professional support can make all the difference," she said.

If you have thoughts of suicide, confidential help is available for free at the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-8255. The line is available 24 hours, every day.

The Befrienders Worldwide website features a list of suicide support services around the world.

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Oprah Winfrey speaks to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The Duchess of Sussex revealed she had experienced suicidal thoughts during the interview broadcast on CBS. Harpo Productions/Joe Pugliese via Getty Images