Harry and Meghan speak about 'almost unsurvivable' trolling and abuse

10 October 2020, 19:45 | Updated: 11 October 2020, 10:01

Harry and Meghan discussed online abuse and the stigma around mental health
Harry and Meghan discussed online abuse and the stigma around mental health. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have spoken about "almost unsurvivable" trolling and abuse while chatting with teenagers on a podcast to mark World Mental Health Day.

Joining three Californian high school students on an episode of their podcast Teenager Therapy, the royal pair discussed topics including mental health stigma, self-care and online abuse.

Meghan told the teenagers that the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced schools around the world to close, has meant people are spending more time online where they may be subject to abuse.

She told hosts Gael, Kayla, and Thomas: "Yes, it's a great way to connect, but it also ends up being a place where there's a lot of disconnection, you know, I can speak personally to.

"I'm told that in 2019 I was the most trolled person in the entire world, male or female. Now, eight months of that I wasn't even visible, I was on maternity leave or with a baby.

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"But what was able to just be manufactured and churned out, it's almost unsurvivable, that's so big, you can't think of what that feels like, because I don't care if you're 15 or 25, if people are saying things about you that aren't true, what that does to your mental and emotional health is so damaging."

Harry said he believed people hide behind the safety of their screens and false usernames in order to express thoughts and feelings they would not say in person.

"I think many, many people are hurting, a lot, and are freaking out because of the way the world is and because of, sometimes, the echo chamber that has been created for them by the online platform that they've chosen to be on," he added.

"But also it comes down to control as well, you can control what you see, you can control what you do, so whether it's notifications or whether it's vibration ringtones, whatever it is, these things control you, rather than taking control."

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The podcast was recorded earlier this week in Santa Barbara, where the royals now live, and everyone involved was socially distanced and wearing a face covering.

It normally features five senior students, from Loara High School in the Orange County city of Anaheim, who have open and frank conversations about a range of topics from mental health, school and family, to friendships and sexuality.

Harry and Meghan discussed their coping strategies for anchoring their mental health, with the duke telling the hosts he meditates, while the duchess said she keeps journals.

The prince emphasised the importance of prioritising self-care and having candid conversations about wellbeing, adding: "The more we talk about it the more it becomes normal, and it is normal, and it's not a sign of weakness, it's a sign of strength."

The Sussexes also criticised algorithms on social media platforms which promote suggested content and said consuming online material should be treated in the same way as a physical diet.

Harry said: "I think it's very easy to be sucked in and consumed by negativity, but we all have the choice to be able to cut that out of our lives.

"Hate following has become a thing, you don't need to do that. Just as much as we worry about, be concerned, and take notice of what we put in our bellies as a diet, the same applies for our eyes and our mind, what we're consuming is affecting us."