Blog post written by Sumayya Tobah
TW: suicide, self-harm, eating disorders
Before this year, my knowledge of the royals came in flashes. My mother, upset at the kitchen table as a headline reads “Princess of Wales dead in Paris.” CNN airing clips of Charles and Camilla’s wedding. An appearance by Prince William in The Princess Diaries II. When William and Kate Middleton got married, I was in university studying for exams. I think I saw the photos in the morning paper, completely oblivious that anything had even happened.
I never really started paying attention until Meghan Markle. I wasn’t a fan of Suits but was always a fan of her style and her humanitarian work. Her relationship with Prince Harry was outed a few months before I myself got engaged. She wore an H necklace; I went out and got a letter necklace of my own. I watched their engagement interview while I was at work, grinning at my desk. It felt like a win for Black women - and I was happy for that community.
In the years that passed, I kept track of Meghan and Harry mostly because of my job. Working in news + media, I always had a heads up on anything major happening with the Royal family. We had an early morning email alert when Meghan’s pregnancy was announced. When they stepped down from their roles as Seniors, it was a part of our major news coverage all day.
But I watched the Oprah interview off the clock. And I truly feel like I am still processing.
I was angry. Angry because Meghan’s speaking out should have been a moment to be celebrated. A high-profile woman of color was speaking out about her struggles with racism and mental health in a way that forced people to sit up and listen. And yet, too many people the next morning were questioning if any of her claims were even true.
For the sake of this article, I want to focus on the topic of mental health. I am not a member of the Black community and while I am a woman of color - and have experienced both racism and Islamophobia - the vitriol aimed at Black women is a specific kind of evil and I do not feel it’s my place to speak on it. But I can say this: the racism Black women face on a daily basis just for existing breaks my heart and we all have a responsibility to vocally and actively oppose it.
On mental health: I am blessed to have survived my teen years and my twenties without any bouts with self-harm or eating disorders. Those around me weren’t always so lucky. I’ve seen how depression can be a crushing black hole. I’ve lost friends to suicide. So, I know that when someone tells you they’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, you believe them. It takes an insane amount of courage to not only be honest with yourself when something is wrong, but to open up to other people. Please don’t turn them away. I’m going to repeat this again: if someone tells you they are having suicidal thoughts, believe them. That person’s race, religion, gender or socio-economic standing do not matter - depression does not discriminate.
Never ever assume you know what’s going on behind the scenes of someone’s life. During the interview, Meghan showed a picture of herself and her husband at an event looking absolutely luminous. Little did the public know she had told him the night before she was considering ending her life. This moment from the interview stayed with me because it’s so relevant - especially in the age of social media. The people you follow and idolize only show their highly polished, filtered and edited moments. There is very little truth on Instagram and TikTok, but we take it as gospel. No one is as perfect as they appear online, not even royalty.
We as Muslims have a lot of work to do when it comes to how we handle mental health in our communities. “You need to pray more” or “You have distanced yourself from Allah SWT” are not helpful sentiments. There is unfortunately a pattern of guilt and shame rather than love and support. But I do believe this is changing. There are new resources like Nasiha Counseling, a Muslim based counselling that can help with the added context of cultural and religious understanding. Muslim therapists are growing in numbers, and are more easily accessible than ever. And as my generation is growing up and taking responsibility and leadership roles in our communities, our understanding of mental health and mental health issues will become more prevalent and more common.
So, I want to close by saying this: if you or someone you love struggles with suicidal thoughts, please seek help. You are not alone. You are valid and you are loved. Allah SWT loves you, and so do I. There are folks out here who want to support you unconditionally.
The National Suicide Hotline number is 800-273-8255
By Sumayya Tobah