Recently, Prince Harry announced that he has been in counseling after years of not addressing the passing of his mother, Princess Diana. Along with his brother and sister-in-law, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Katherine, he has been promoting their charity Heads Up in conjunction with this announcement—which will in part be sponsoring the London Marathon. This move by the Royal Family is following a new wave of celebrity figures (Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, and Chrissy Teagan) who have recently opened up about their mental health struggles, all of whom are using their platform as a means to raise awareness of this vital issue.
Naturally, there are many questions that accompany this movement, in particular, is it helpful or not for celebrities to weigh in on this topic?. Does it help US to see figures in the limelight be upfront about their personal struggles?
The answer is a resounding yes, because when it comes to issues like mental health, representation is vital.
The stigma that exists around mental health in this country and many others is no secret. This is largely due to our fear of burdening one another. If you are too open about how you are actually feeling, the fear is that you will lose friends, and that it isn’t their place to help you deal with the issues, or they’ll be nervous and they won’t know how to react.
Honestly? They might not know how to react or the perfect thing to say–and maybe that not knowing is okay. Those people don’t have to have an exact answer for you because there isn’t always an exact answer. That doesn’t lessen the beauty of opening up in that way.
Increased vulnerability directly correlates with our ability to form genuine connections with others, and by extension increases the likelihood we will feel better about whatever it is we’re dealing with, simply through the act of sharing. There are countless studies from figures like Brene Brown to researchers at Harvard that come to the same conclusion: human connection and vulnerability are imperative and key to our ability to thrive as human beings.
The key issue and struggle, I believe, is figuring out which spaces are the best for us to process which emotions. Walking into work and collapsing onto the floor under the weight of all of your issues or constantly unloading every detail of every problem you have onto your friends with no reciprocity is not the answer. Opening up to aggressors or the trigger points of our trauma is potentially dangerous and harmful. But that doesn’t mean we should write vulnerability off entirely. What it does mean is that we have to be strategic, streamlining our vulnerability, finding and creating spaces where we can express our feelings safely.
I’ve come to find is part of the beauty of life and true human connection is found in those spaces. One of the most powerful results of engaging and sharing our vulnerabilities with others is that we know we are not alone. In the aftermath of my sexual assault, I attended dozens of rallies, group therapy sessions and other events. I never spoke at them, and if I’m honest, I still don’t know if I ever will want to—or be able to. But what was key for me was hearing other people share their experiences because then I knew I was not alone.
No one is ever OK 100 percent of the time—and the more we are able to share that with one another, whether through succinct answers of “I’m OK, but I’m having a tough time today,” to long winded conversations with professionals, or opening up to our closest friends, the more room we give to ourselves and others to accept that it is OK not to be OK.
I will repeat that: it is OK not to be OK.
In fact, it is a reality of the human condition—and the sooner we all stop pretending like we are OK all the time to every person we meet, the sooner we will actually create room to be our truly powerful and incredible selves.
One of my favorite quotes by Elizabeth Gilbert says: “The women whom I love and admire for their strength and grace did not get there because shit worked out. They got that way because shit went wrong and they handled it. They handled it in a thousand different ways on a thousand different days, but they handled it. Those women are my superheroes.”
And this doesn’t have to be a gendered thing. We cannot, and we will not, reach our full potential of who we are as people if we aren’t honest with where we are in our lives. And again, this does not mean undisciplined vulnerability thrown at the nearest stranger. But it does mean taking the steps, whether it’s in tiny baby crawls or in big giant leaps, we can take care of ourselves by acknowledging and being gently honest about our mental health needs–maybe even by sharing our stories with the world, when and if we’re ready