Prince Harry: 'I spent 20 years not thinking about it and two years of total chaos'
Prince Harry speaks frankly about fighting his demons in the wake of his mother’s death and how he finally sought professional help
Britain's Prince Harry has disclosed that he sought counselling after enduring two years of "total chaos" while still struggling in his late twenties to come to terms with the death of his mother.
The prince said in an interview with the 'Daily Telegraph' that he "shut down all his emotions" for almost two decades after losing his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, despite his brother, Prince William, trying to persuade him to seek help.
Disclosing that he has spoken to a professional about his mental health, he described how he only began to address his grief when he was 28 after feeling "on the verge of punching someone" and facing anxiety during royal engagements.
Describing the "quite serious effect" that losing his mother had on his personal and professional life, he told how living in the public eye left him feeling he could be "very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions".
"I can count myself very lucky," he said. "It was 20 years of not thinking about it and two years of total chaos." Now aged 32, he turned to counsellors and even took up boxing. He said he is now in "a good place".
Prince Harry gave an unprecedented insight into his past in the hope it will encourage people to break the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
The prince and his brother and sister-in-law, William and Kate, have together driven Heads Together, a charity which promotes good mental well-being.
Harry, who was 12 when his mother died, said that he spent his teenage years and twenties determined not to think about her. "I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well," he said.
Of life in the public eye, he said: "I have probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions when all sorts of grief and sort of lies and misconceptions and everything are coming to you from every angle."
Asked whether he had been to see a "shrink" to "let it all rip", he said: "I've done that a couple of times, more than a couple of times, but it's great."
The prince admitted that at times he had struggled with aggression and turned to boxing as an outlet for his frustration.
"During those years I took up boxing, because everyone was saying boxing is good for you and it's a really good way of letting out aggression," he said.
"And that really saved me because I was on the verge of punching someone, so being able to punch someone who had pads was certainly easier."
He eventually sought support with the encouragement of his brother and others close to him, who told him: "Look, you really need to deal with this. It is not normal to think that nothing has affected you.
"The experience I have had is that once you start talking about it, you realise that actually you're part of quite a big club," he said.
Harry said of his loss: "My way of dealing with it was sticking my head in the sand, refusing to ever think about my mum, because why would that help? [I thought] it's only going to make you sad, it's not going to bring her back.
"So from an emotional side, I was like 'right, don't ever let your emotions be part of anything'. So I was a typical 20, 25, 28-year-old running around going 'life is great', or 'life is fine' and that was exactly it.
"And then [I] started to have a few conversations and actually all of a sudden, all of this grief that I have never processed started to come to the forefront and I was like, there is actually a lot of stuff here that I need to deal with." Before learning to talk about his thoughts, he struggled to understand them. "I just couldn't put my finger on it," he said. "I just didn't know what was wrong with me."
Even at royal engagements, he said, he had found himself battling a "fight or flight" reaction without knowing why. Once he started opening up to friends, he added, he found those same friends felt able to "unravel their own issues".
Of his current focus on mental health, he said: "What we are trying to do is normalise the conversation to the point where anyone can sit down and have a coffee and just go 'you know what, I've had a really s*** day, can I just tell about it? Because then you walk away and it's done."
"Because of the process I have been through over the past two and a half years, I've now been able to take my work seriously, been able to take my private life seriously as well, and been able to put blood, sweat and tears into the things that really make a difference and things that I think will make a difference to everybody else."
Harry In his own words...
On his own mental health
"Losing my mum at the age of 12 and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well."
On dealing with things now
"What we are trying to do is normalise the conversation to the point that anyone can sit down and have a coffee and just go, 'you know what, I've had a really s--- day, can I just tell you about it?' because then you walk away and it's done. Rather than a week later or 20 years later, what could have been something small could grow into this beast of a snowball which you can't dislodge."
"The best or the easiest people to speak to is a shrink or whoever... I've done that a couple of times, more than a couple of times."
On struggling during his twenties
"I can count myself very lucky. It was 20 years of not thinking about it and two years of total chaos."
On not processing his grief
"My way of dealing with it was sticking my head in the sand refusing to ever think about my mum, because why would that help? It's only going to make you sad, it's not going to bring her back. So from an emotional side I was like, right don't ever let your emotions be part of anything."
On the pressures of living in the public eye
"I have probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions when all sorts of grief and lies and misconceptions are coming to you from every angle. But you know, it comes with the job, it comes with the role, and one of the hardest things, I suppose, is not being able to have that voice or being able to stand up for yourself."
On Prince William's help
'My brother... was a huge support to me. Kept saying 'this is not right, this is not normal, you need to talk to about stuff, it's OK'."
On talking about his feelings
"Once I offload my stuff to somebody else I feel so much better. I know there is huge merit in talking about your issues and the only thing about keeping it quiet is, it's only ever going to make it worse."
On working with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge
"As long as we are this age and we're still interesting, we want to make as much of a difference as we can for the better."