Seeing Prince Harry Deal with His Pain Is Good for Anyone Whos Struggling

It only took about 10 minutes into the first episode of Apple TV+’s new documentary series The Me You Can’t See before I felt my eyes starting to well up. It’s difficult to communicate the complicated process by which a life event transforms into a trauma, where our best available coping strategies morph into mental health struggles. As a therapist and a writer, I also know how hard it is to capture the precise way in which pain transforms into recovery. As Lady Gaga, one of the participants in the show, says at one point, “the line is very thin.”

Yet, roughly 10 minutes into this series, which is co-created and produced by Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry and premiers on May 21, we’re given a montage that captures this process viscerally. We see Prince Harry the boy stoically holding his feelings in at his mother’s funeral alongside a more visibly anxious Harry as a young adult trying to go about his royal duties and keep his discomfort at bay, the burden of the mask more apparent now. These two Harrys are joined by Harry the husband and father, sitting in an interview room with Oprah. Now, four years into his own therapy journey, he eloquently articulates what so many people need to hear: no matter where you come from, we all pay a heavy price for keeping our struggles locked behind a mask. It’s clear that this project is part of Harry’s own healing, as he says early on: “The only way to free yourself and break out is to tell the truth.”

That’s all well and good, but why broadcast this to millions of people? What’s the difference between vulnerable truth telling and exploiting your pain for personal gain? Dr. Ken Duckworth, the medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and one of the experts featured on the show, puts it this way: “We don’t need a series on heightened high blood pressure…You know, we’ve done a really good job in our country and preventing cardiovascular ailments. But of course, suicide, drug overdose, these are problems that we are not successful at as a country.” And, of course, part of the reason why is that most people won’t bat an eye about getting a prescription to lower their blood pressure, but share that you’re going to therapy or taking an SSRI? Forget about it.

The consequences of stigma and shame around mental health lead many people to avoid getting help when they need it and causes so many to suffer in silence, which in turn causes more suffering than the illness itself. Undoubtedly, one of the goals of this series is to reduce shame and stigma around mental health issues. If an actual prince or platinum-selling pop star struggles with depression and anxiety, it’s probably okay for you to go to therapy too.

But to me, the most powerful aspect of the show is the way it flips the dynamic of suffering on its head. “Vulnerability is strength” is a bit of a cliché – it’s true, it does take courage to be vulnerable about something that you feel ashamed of. But the show also highlights the ways the vulnerability of mental health struggles is in itself a strength. Unlike something like heart disease, some people with mental health issues actually thrive because of their struggles.

I’m not sure Lady Gaga would be who she is if she wasn’t also working through her trauma. Would Celebrity Chef Rashad Olmstead, another participant in the series, really have grown such a big heart and generous spirit if he hadn’t also struggled with depression? Consider the painful-to-watch segment on Olympic boxer Virginia Fuch’s battle with OCD and tell me, would she really bring the passion and intensity required to become a gold medal contender if she hadn’t needed the refuge that boxing provided her from an, at times, all-consuming fixation on cleanliness?

Lastly, though, the show highlights the way vulnerability creates strength. As Dr. Duckworth put it, giving to others helps people who are struggling with their own mental health. Sharing your story and having a positive impact helps you move beyond your own pain. It also makes it easier for the next person to get help and creates a more compassionate society.

The trauma researcher Bruce Perry, another expert featured on the show, notes that none of us are “more than one person away from depression, anxiety, trauma.” The more we lend a hand to those of us who are struggling by sharing how we struggled, we ease our own pain as well as theirs. And in this way, the show encourages us all to hold the complexity of what mental health truly is. Our suffering leads to strength, our pain and trauma point the way towards previously unknown inner resilience.

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