Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, is opening up about the effect online trolling has had on her mental health—calling it “almost unsurvivable” in a new interview.
In a joint interview with husband Prince Harry on the podcast “Teenager Therapy,” Markle says she found out from an unnamed source that she was the “most trolled person in the entire world, male or female,” in 2019. “Now, eight months of that, I wasn’t even visible,” Markle said on the podcast. “I was on maternity leave or with the baby. But what was able to just be manufactured and churned out—it’s almost unsurvivable.”
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex made the podcast appearance, which aired October 10, in honor of World Mental Health Day. The podcast hosts—five teenaged friends based in California—also shared the news of their royal guests on their Instagram account. “In honor of World Mental Health Day, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex sat down with us for a conversation about prioritizing mental health, removing the stigma around the issue, and how we can all contribute to a healthier world: physically, mentally, emotionally, holistically,” the post said.
During the podcast, Markle also spoke about how harassment and bullying can have a negative impact on anyone, royal or otherwise. “Even though our experience is unique to us and obviously can seem very different to what people experience on the day to day, it’s still a human experience and that’s universal,” she said. “We all know what it feels like to have our feelings hurt. We all know what it feels like to be isolated or othered. And I think that’s why the work you guys are doing here is so important…that people know there’s someone to talk to. You’re not alone in any of it. We’re all figuring it out.”
In January 2020, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced that they were stepping back as senior royals and would split their time between the United Kingdom and North America “after many months of reflection and internal discussions,” according to their official statement. Their decision came in the wake of years of intense scrutiny and vitriol toward the couple both on social media and in the press, which included often racist and sexist coverage of Markle.
Markle has spoken about the effects of social media bullying on her mental health before, both in the press and in the courts.
In late September 2020, news broke that Markle lost her lawsuit against Associated Newspapers Ltd., the publisher of British tabloids Mail on Sunday and MailOnline, over five February 2019 articles that published several parts of a handwritten letter she wrote to her estranged father, Thomas Markle, in 2018. Court documents from the lawsuit obtained by E! News note how the invasive tabloid coverage has affected Markle’s mental health specifically. “[Meghan Markle] had become the subject of a large number of false and damaging articles by the UK tabloid media, specifically by the [Mail on Sunday], which caused tremendous emotional distress and damage to her mental health,” the documents read. “As her friends had never seen her in this state before, they were rightly concerned for her welfare, specifically as she was pregnant, unprotected by the Institution, and prohibited from defending herself.”
In an October 2019 interview with ITV, Markle spoke candidly when a reporter asked her how being in the spotlight has impacted her physical and mental health. “Look, any woman, especially when they’re pregnant, you’re really vulnerable, and so that was made really challenging,” Markle said at the time. “And then when you have a newborn, you know. And especially as a woman, it’s really—it’s a lot. So you add this on top of trying to be a new mom, or trying to be a newlywed, it’s…yeah.” She continued: “And also, thank you for asking. Because not many people have asked if I’m okay. But it’s a very real thing to be going through behind the scenes.”
“Would it be fair to say not really okay? It’s really been a struggle?” the reporter asked. “Yes,” Markle responded.
Markle is certainly not alone when it comes to cyberbullying or harassment affecting her mental health, although she obviously has a unique experience in this space. In a Pew Research Center survey of 4,248 U.S. adults from 2017, 41 percent of those surveyed said that they have been personally subjected to online harassment, and 66 percent said they have witnessed online harassment directed at others. And 44% of the 18% of respondents who said they experienced “severe” harassment—including physical threats, prolonged harassment, and stalking—also said their most recent experience led to mental or emotional stress.It’s important for someone as influential as Markle to speak so candidly about her experiences struggling with her mental health—264 million people worldwide experience depression, according to the World Health Organization, and one in five adults in the United States experience mental illness each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. While Markle has not said whether she’s been diagnosed with postpartum depression, she’s still raising awareness about the condition by sharing how being pregnant and having a newborn adds pressures to one’s mental health. Postpartum depression is extremely common: a May 2020 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey showed that 1 out of every 8 women surveyed experienced symptoms aligning with the condition. Now imagine going through a tough postpartum experience in the public eye, as Markle did.
It’s clear that cyberbullying hurts, and has a real impact on mental health no matter who you are. The Duchess of Sussex said it best: “I don’t care if you’re 15 or you’re 25, if people are saying things about you that aren’t true, what that does to your mental and emotional health is so damaging.” In opening up about mental health difficulties, Markle is setting a great example for all of us—it’s long past time we start normalizing mental health conversations.