“Everybody has some form of pain. You can think you’re the most successful, happiest person, but that doesn’t mean you have your life sorted.”
Prince Harry, BetterUp Chief Impact Officer
Our experiences of mental health and the paths we take to understanding ourselves and finding our way forward are unique and deeply personal. Yet, they’re also common.
The new documentary series created by Oprah Winfrey and BetterUp Chief Impact Officer Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex, documents the unique ways mental health affects people and the human experience of their struggles. It’s hard not to be struck by the commonality of experiences in “The Me You Can’t See”. Across a range of backgrounds and cultures, genders and ages, different types of grief, disorder, and pain, traumas public and private, large and small, all lead to similar moments — that moment when each person is alone and exhausted, saying “I can’t do this anymore. I need help.”
As Mental Health Awareness Month nears its close, the docuseries does more than raise awareness around mental health and mental fitness. It reminds us, in visceral, deeply felt moments, that mental health is more than a single month. It’s more than a disorder or illness.
Our mental health is a journey without end — it is fundamental to our human condition. Finding our way toward better well-being, and learning how to integrate our challenges into the best version of ourselves we can be, is the journey of our lifetimes.
The journey, the paths we take, are unique for each of us. But our healing and strengthening process is one that we can — and should — share.
"Because of stigma, mental health kind of gets left behind ... It’s also the invisible injury. Things we can’t see, things we don’t understand, scare us."
3 important reminders from “The Me You Can’t See”
1) Everyone carries struggles, pain, trauma, and other challenges within them.
One thing that becomes clear, is that we are all, as Dr. Bruce Perry says, just one family member removed from someone who is struggling with depression or anxiety or trauma. This thing that we don’t talk about is shared by so many. Everyone carries burdens that we cannot see and cannot know if we don’t know their story.
Yet, when people are suffering, they feel deeply alone. People, across walks of life, felt equally unable to talk about their mental health with family or friends. Many didn’t have the words for it. Others felt more explicit stigma or taboo against talking about mental health. The challenges of stigma, shame, confusion, aloneness, and exhaustion transcend age, gender, culture, and socioeconomic status.
Accepting that, “this is my life, this is part of who I am, part of my story and it isn’t going away” is a big challenge for individuals and the people around them.
"What I know now is that the question isn’t 'What is wrong with you?' but 'What has happened to you?'”
2) We can become more fit in our mental health, just as in our physical health.
We can develop our own mental fitness and train our minds to work with what we have. Whether it is Ginny, a boxer learning to manage her OCD through exposure therapy, or Lady Gaga reminding herself to be patient with her recovery from PTSD, there are practices — available to all of us — that we can use to strengthen our mental health. These practices help us build our fitness to positively work with, and through, our current mental health challenges and future challenges that come our way. As Alex, a young woman coming out of a program said, “I’m taking the training wheels off. But now I know I can pedal.”
We can develop practices to breathe, to meditate, to pause, to reframe, and to question the negative thoughts and voices whether they are external or internal. We learn to eat, to nourish ourselves and move our bodies, to rest, to be of service to others, to find moments of joy and gratitude.
Generally, we don’t get “cured” from our mental health struggles. Improving our mental health ultimately requires us to find sustainable, healthy ways to integrate our challenges, including even more serious conditions, into our daily lives. As Dr. Perry said, “It is possible to have mental illness and also thrive. It isn’t about curing, but figuring out how best to live with it.” We can look at mental health as a set of daily practices that we do to help us thrive, and find the highest level of happiness and well-being we can, regardless of the underlying condition or illness.
"For me now, it’s all about prevention. We need to have someone in our life who can guide us and help bring our awareness to when we might be feeling pain and guide us in how to get out of that and what the tools are available to us on any given day so that it doesn’t snowball out of control. Putting in the work puts you in a better position to take on additional tools for bigger challenges."
3) Mental fitness and healing start with sharing our stories.
A big part of mental fitness and healing is building the community and creating the social connections and support to be able to be honest and to have more vulnerable conversations. There is power in vulnerability, connection in empathy, and strength in honesty. This creates space to get help as we need it. Because the need for support isn’t just a single occurrence. To stay fit and travel along the journey of mental health, we need support and guidance all along the way.
Families and friends are an essential part of healing for many people, when the family and friends are willing to learn and problem solve and not shame the person for their vulnerability. It isn’t always easy. When one person becomes vulnerable, it can force others to crack open and face vulnerability as well.
The people profiled are incredibly brave, letting others into their worst moments. We share stories so that others can recognize parts of themselves in our stories and know they are not the only one — they are not alone. We also share stories of our healing to show the range of paths to healing and strengthening.
Rather than have mental health be something that each person faces alone and in the moments of despair, we can share our stories of healing and in doing so help others and ourselves.
"One of the relatable things that people share in their unique journeys is: first, the admittance that something is wrong; and second, the need to ask for help. And there’s no shame... So, if one small part of my experience can connect with someone who's gone through something similar, that’s enough."