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Opinion: Catholics should care about Meghan Markle's mental health

Meghan and Harry's recent interview with Oprah has opened an international conversation about power, racism, and mental health. Alessandra Harris dissects and reflects.

With an average of 17.1 million people watching Oprah Winfrey's 2-hour interview of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, there's a good chance you tuned in or at least saw clips or media coverage of it afterward.

My mother's family was politically exiled from South Africa due to my grandfather Dennis Brutus' anti-apartheid activity, and they then moved to London. My mom lived there for five years before she, my grandpa, and half her family of eight moved to the United States. My grandmother and the remaining children stayed in Great Britain.

As a result, I grew up watching the BBC and following the Royal family along with my mom. I watched with my own daughter in May 2018 when Meghan married Prince Harry.

At the time, it felt like a watershed moment in history. The royal family of one of the biggest empires and colonial powers in the world celebrated the nuptials of their prince with a biracial Black woman. The diverse ceremony included a Black preacher, Black gospel choir, and Black cellist—among other cultural nods to Meghan's African-American heritage. For me and many Black women around the globe, it somehow felt like our dreams of a fairytale ending were coming true. Finally.

So, to say that Meghan's revelations during the interview with Oprah were heartbreaking is an understatement.

Though the racist vitriol the British media directed toward Meghan is well known, the new details about the royal family's own racism toward her were news to many, including myself. Meghan detailed how the "institution" had told Prince Harry that convention would be broken and his and Meghan's child would not be given the royal title of prince nor would he receive protection. Meghan and Harry also briefly detailed how an unnamed member of the royal family had spoken to Harry out of concern about how dark the skin of their unborn child may be—and the implications of it.

With the burden of this racism, coupled with the British media attacks and her personal isolation, Meghan revealed she became extremely depressed and suicidal. When she reached out to the institution for help, Meghan was told it wouldn't look good if she received treatment, and Harry admitted he didn't feel he could reach out to get her help due to the stigma attached to mental health treatment.

Meghan and Harry explained that instead of freely choosing to exit the royal family, they were pushed out and left without protection or financial resources.

I went to sleep Sunday night devastated by what their family had endured and disgusted at the racism that far too many biracial couples face. The next day on Twitter, there was a tremendous outpouring of love for Meghan and her young family and righteous indignation toward the royals. But what I couldn't believe were the cruel and insensitive reactions mainly white people were voicing.

People said that Meghan was playing a victim, that she didn't have a right to complain because she'd freely chosen to marry royalty, and that racism had nothing to do with what she'd experienced. Some even doubted she was actually suicidal, arguing instead that Meghan made it up to garner sympathy. By the end of Monday night, I had to log off Twitter and distance myself from the callousness.

Even so, I won't be silent in the face of the injustice Meghan experienced.

For centuries, Black women have been silenced, gaslighted, and called hysterical for voicing their pain. Women of African descent who were enslaved and considered "property" endured rape, beatings, and having their babies ripped from their arms and sold to the highest bidder, without a thought about how they, the mother, would feel.

The only way people could treat Black women like this was to consider them less than human. To believe they don't feel pain or deserve dignity, respect, or sympathy.

Meghan's story triggered memories of the mental health struggles I've faced in my own life. In 2010, a year after having my fourth child in a span of six years, I had a mental breakdown. I had police officers—with guns drawn—detain me, handcuff me, and walk me past my children to a squad car for no other reason than the fact that I was suffering a mental health crisis.

I fell into a deep depression in the aftermath of my breakdown and experienced intense suicidal ideation. People close to me would tell me not to say that I felt like killing myself, because it made them feel uncomfortable. Close friends couldn't sit with my pain and simply stopped answering my calls. Priests told me I just needed to pray more and everything would work itself out.

It took me eight years to publicly talk about my breakdown, because of shame. But through God's grace, I began to share my experience and encountered so many mothers, especially with large families, who either had similar experiences or felt close to it. Countless women who felt overwhelmed, isolated, and unsupported, and fearful to voice their experience and seek help because of what others would think. And there are countless Black women still who are struggling to keep everything together—and are on the verge of falling apart—because of the constant strain of racism, inequality, oppression, and injustice they encounter on a daily basis.

As Catholics, we should care about Meghan Markle's mental health. We should care about racism and the toll it takes on Black people throughout the globe. We should care about moms who are told to have as many children as God gives them, but who aren't given tangible support to raise those children. We should care about men and women who are struggling with their mental health. We should care about people who have lost loved ones to suicide and work to make sure people don't feel there's no other option.

And caring starts with listening.

Alessandra Harris is author of two novels and is a wife, mother of four, and co-founder of BCM. She earned degrees in Comparative Religious studies and Middle East Studies and currently studies in the Diocese of San Jose's Institute for Leadership in Ministry. She has also contributed to publications such as America Magazine, Grotto Network, and US Catholic. Her third novel is due in 2022.