Meghan Markle says she asked for mental health support during her time as a Royal. Why couldn’t she get help?

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Millions of people around the world tuned in for Meghan Markle’s highly anticipated interview with Oprah Winfrey, in which she revealed the mental health pressures she battled during her time as a Royal.

The Duchess of Sussex detailed the severe impact that the media and the Royal family had on her mental wellbeing, particularly while she was pregnant with her first child, Archie.

She said she asked for help both from within the Palace and permission to seek support outside of it, and was knocked back. Her husband, Prince Harry, said the same.

So what is on offer for those within the Royal family when they need help, and why did the Duchess have to leave the Royal family to get assistance?

Here’s what we know.

Wait, the Royals have their own HR department?

Prince Harry said he felt a lack of support from his family when he and Meghan were struggling with their roles.
Prince Harry said he felt a lack of support from his family when he and Meghan were struggling with their roles.(AP: Harpo Productions)

The Royal Household has five departments, one of which is the Privy Purse and Treasurer’s Office.

It encompasses sub-departments including finance, property services, IT and human resources (HR), according to official Royal channels.

The Palace says the Privy Purse and Treasurer’s Office “enables the Household to operate as a business“.

The Office, and the HR department within it, operates for the Royal Household’s staff — not necessarily directly or exclusively for the Royals themselves.

Royals commentator Victoria Arbiter explained the Royal Household’s HR department as being “just like at any other company”.

“There is a human resources department because they have a responsibility to protect the staff and to make sure that everything is being done in an ethically moral fashion, just like any business,” Ms Arbiter told Vox.

“I think Meghan was sort of looking for help wherever she could find it. That was one area where the door was closed.”

Buckingham Palace also has a doctor, and the Queen has her own dedicated medical team.

While it’s not a service offered by the palace, Harry has worked closely with his brother, William, and sister-in-law, Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, on their Heads Together campaign, which aims to tackle negative stigmas around mental health and encourage people to come forward and seek help if they need it.

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Who did Meghan Markle ask for help?

In her interview with Oprah, the Duchess of Sussex said she went to one of the Palace institution’s “most senior people” for support after experiencing thoughts of self-harm.

She didn’t disclose who this person was, or their title.

“I went to the institution. And I said that I needed to go somewhere to get help,” she said.

“I said, I never felt this way before and I need to go somewhere.

A photo of Harry sitting on the grass with Meghan looking pregnant and her head laying on Harry's lap.
Meghan and Harry are expecting their second child, a daughter, later this year.(Twitter: @scobie)

She said it was after that conversation that she went to human resources asking for assistance, with no luck.

“I remember this conversation like it was yesterday, because they said, ‘my heart goes out to you because I see how bad it is. But there’s nothing we can do to protect you because you’re not a paid employee of the institution‘,” she said.

“This wasn’t a choice. This was emails and begging for help, saying very specifically, ‘I am concerned for my mental welfare’.

“And people going, ‘yes, yes, it’s disproportionately terrible to what we see out there to anyone else’, but nothing was ever done.”

BBC Royals correspondent Jonny Dymond says there is no dedicated HR department for working Royals, which Meghan was at the time.

“There is an HR manager for lower level royal staff and the household, as set out on the Buckingham Palace website. Just not for senior household or staff,” he explained.

Ms Markle said she also asked to be released to seek help from medical professionals, but was told not to.

“You can’t just do that, I couldn’t just call an Uber to the Palace,” she said.

“You couldn’t just go. You have to understand as well, when I joined that family, that was the last time until we came here (to the US) that I saw my passport, my driver’s licence, my keys, all of that gets turned over.”

What has the Palace said since?

The Queen released a statement overnight, saying the Royal family was “saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan”.

It also said allegations of racism also raised in the Oprah interview were being “taken very seriously” and that they would be handled by the family “privately”.

It’s not clear whether the Palace’s HR department or the unnamed “senior” person Meghan first went to for help will be included in those discussions.

Harry’s father, Prince Charles, refused to comment on the interview when questioned during a public appearance on Tuesday.

Britain's Prince Harry, left, and Meghan Markle leave in a carriage after their wedding ceremony.
Harry and Meghan were married in 2018, with a televised ceremony at Windsor Castle.(AP: Alastair Grant)

Speaking to Oprah, Ms Markle was asked in the interview whether she was concerned about backlash from the Palace by going public with her story, but responded by saying: “I’m not going to live my life in fear.”

“I don’t know how they could expect that after all this time, we would still just be silent if there is an active role that the firm is playing in perpetuating falsehoods about us,” she said.

“At a certain point you’re going to go ‘hey guys, someone just tell the truth’.

“If that comes with the risk of losing things, there’s a lot that’s been lost already. I’ve lost my father, I lost a baby, I nearly lost my name, but I’m still standing.”

What about the allegations that Meghan and Harry bullied staff?

This one is the Royal Household HR department’s responsibility, because it was reportedly raised by Household employees.

Prior to the Oprah interview airing, the Palace said it would investigate allegations that Meghan bullied staff during her time as a Royal in London.

In a statement, Buckingham Palace said it was “clearly very concerned” about the allegations first published in The Times newspaper “made by former staff of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex”.

“Accordingly our HR team will look into the circumstances outlined in the article,” the statement read.

“Members of staff involved at the time, including those who have left the household, will be invited to participate to see if lessons can be learned.

The Sussexes didn’t address these allegations in their interview with Oprah, but there has been speculation that the grievances were aired as a disruption to the couple’s Oprah interview.

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