How Meghan Markle Has Already Changed the Way We Talk About Suicide

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“Yes,” Meghan said, “this was very, very clear.”

Later, we learned just how clear it was. She recalled what she told her husband: “It was like, these are the thoughts that I’m having in the middle of the night that are very clear, and I’m scared, because this is very real. This isn’t some abstract idea. This is methodical, and this is not who I am.”

Meghan said she asked a senior member of the royal family about the possibility of being hospitalized for her mental health problems but said that this person refused in order to protect the family’s image. She said she was too scared to be left alone, worried that she might end her life. So she confided in Prince Harry, who supported her emotionally but didn’t share the extent of her troubles with his family.

“I guess I was ashamed of admitting it to them, and I don’t know whether they’ve had the same feelings or thoughts,” he told Ms. Winfrey. “I have no idea. It’s a very trapping environment that a lot of them are stuck in.”

This is why Meghan’s disclosure is a gift to so many strangers. You don’t have to be royalty to be trapped into silence. According to one 2015 study, almost 10 million American adults had seriously considered suicide during the previous year; a 2019 survey found that almost one in five high school students had such thoughts. Despite the relatively high prevalence of suicidal thoughts, fewer than half of people experiencing them tell a friend or family member. Among those who died by suicide between 2000 and 2017, only about one in three had seen a therapist or psychiatrist in the past year.

Some people may be concerned that Meghan’s disclosures could trigger other vulnerable individuals to view suicide as, to use her word, a “solution.” Indeed, research indicates that knowing someone who died by suicide or who attempted suicide is linked to increased risk of suicide. When a celebrity dies by suicide, suicide rates increase slightly in the month following their death.

Yes, contagion can occur after a suicide, but hope is also contagious.

Hearing stories of people resisting suicidal thoughts without acting on them has been linked to decreases in suicide rates. Perhaps tales of recovery can inspire hope and healing.

The tragedy of the silence around suicide isn’t only that people suffer alone. It’s also that they rarely hear the stories of those who have been suicidal and survived. Research indicates that almost half of people say they know someone who died by suicide. Though this hasn’t been studied, far more people likely know someone who has recovered from suicidal thoughts, since roughly 240 times more people consider suicide in a given year than die by it.