For a child, losing a parent can be one of the most defining moments of their lives.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, experiencing grief as a child can lead to a lifetime of issues, such as depression or trouble handling emotions — the latter of which sometimes leads to the suppression of feelings.
And for young Prince Harry, who was only 12 years old when his mother — Diana, Princess of Wales — died, the grief would stay bottled up within him for years.
He previously told The Telegraph that throughout the entirety of his youth, he didn’t deal with his mother’s death:
“For a lot of my 20s, I was a problem.”
He continued, saying he “shut down all his emotions” and was “very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions.” And eventually, he said, that suppression brought about “two years of total chaos.”
So, what made him finally deal with it and seek help? Afghanistan.
Prince Harry served in the British military for 10 years, working his way up to the rank of captain with two Afghanistan tours under his belt.
And on Tuesday, he opened up to his friend, Paralympic medal winner and former Invictus Games captain Dave Henson, about just how much serving in Afghanistan affected his mental health.
Per E! News, he told Henson:
“I’ve got plenty of issues but none of them really relate to Afghanistan, but Afghanistan was the thing that triggered everything else. Not to get too personal, if you lose your mum at the age of 12 then you’ve got to deal with it and the idea that … 15, 17 years later I still hadn’t dealt with it, Afghan was the moment. I was like ‘right — deal with it.'”
People reported that during the same conversation, Prince Harry admitted he also began suffering panic attacks as a young man:
“In my case, suit and tie, every single time I was in any room with loads of people, which is quite often, I was just pouring with sweat, like heart beating — boom, boom, boom, boom — and literally just like a washing machine. … I was like, ‘Oh my God, get me out of here now.’”
But he said it was serving his country that made him realize he needed help, and not only for himself, but for everyone suffering with mental health issues:
“Once I plucked my head out of the sand, post-Afghan … it had a huge … life changing moment for me. It was like, right, you are … Prince Harry, you can do this, as long are you’re not a complete tit, then you’re gonna be able to get that support, because you’ve got the credibility of 10 years’ service and therefore, you can really make a difference.”
He continued that sentiment, saying:
“You help yourself, so you can help others. And I think that is hugely powerful.”
Now, Prince Harry, along with his brother, the Duke of Cambridge, and sister-in-law, the Duchess of Cambridge, are coming together to focus on mental health issues — raising awareness, working to fight the stigma, and fighting towards better treatment and wider access through the Heads Together campaign.
If you or anyone you know is in need of counseling and/or mental health treatment, please visit the National Institute of Mental Health’s website, or call 911 in the case of an emergency.