Prince Harry, Mental Health and… the Brain

Prince Harry

Recently, Prince Harry has bravely been hitting the airwaves and opening up about mental health in a very personal and meaningful way. After stepping away from royal duties in 2020, Harry and his wife Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, have revealed intimate stories about their own psychological struggles. In the AppleTV+ television series “The Me You Can’t See” that he co-produced with Oprah Winfrey and in sit-down interviews with the media mogul and others, Harry has spoken from the heart about issues he’s faced.

In addition, he has shared the fact that he’s been going to therapy, and he’s discussed some powerful therapeutic techniques that he uses in his own life. Opening up about personal struggles in such a public way takes tremendous courage, and his efforts to bring mental health issues out of the shadows of our minds should be applauded.

In this new conversation about mental well-being, Amen Clinics would add one more element—the brain. Our brain imaging work—over 170,000 brain scans related to behavior—reveals that “mental health” is really “brain health.” SPECT, the brain imaging technology used at Amen Clinics, measures blood flow and activity in the brain and reveals 3 things: areas of the brain with healthy activity, too little activity, and too much activity. Abnormal activity in the brain is often associated with symptoms of mental health issues. The human brain is an organ just like your heart and all your other organs, and you can only be as mentally healthy as your brain is functionally healthy.

In light of the brain’s role in psychological, cognitive, and behavioral well-being, here are 5 takeaways from Harry’s recent revelations about mental health and how the brain is fundamentally involved in each of them.

5 Takeaways From Prince Harry’s Recent Revelations About Mental Health

1. Destigmatizing mental health

Harry has been championing the importance of talking about mental well-being for years since he and his brother, William, The Duke of Cambridge, and his sister-in-law Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, launched Heads Together. This initiative encourages people to stop feeling ashamed and start speaking up and asking for help when they are having issues related to emotional well-being. “Sharing your story in order to be able to save a life or help others is absolutely critical,” says Harry in the documentary series.

What’s happening in the brain: By labeling anxiousness, depression, and other issues as mental illness or psychiatric illness instead of brain health issues, people suffer in silence because of the shame they feel. No one is shamed for heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. No one should be shamed for anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Brain SPECT imaging helps destigmatize mental health issues. When people see a scan of their brain, it helps them view their problems as medical, not moral. This makes them more likely to talk openly about their struggles.

2. Addressing past trauma, grief, and loss

Harry shares that he was devastated by the death of his mother Princess Diana in 1997 in a car crash in Paris. Only 12 years old at the time, Harry recalls feeling “so angry with what happened to her.” But following his mother’s tragic demise, he wasn’t able to work through those feelings or discuss his grief with many people. He admits that in his 20s, he began drinking heavily and doing drugs as a Band-Aid to cover up the emotions that threatened to bubble up. “I would find myself drinking not because I was enjoying it but because I was trying to mask something,” he says, adding, “I was willing to try and do the things that made me feel less like I was feeling.”

What’s happening in the brain: When we bottle up our grief, our emotional brain becomes inflamed. In order to heal from trauma, grief, and loss, people need to work through the pain rather than numbing it with alcohol or drugs.

3. EMDR therapy

In the third episode of the series, Harry reveals that he’s benefited from a psychotherapeutic therapy called EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). This technique can be a potent treatment for people who have experienced emotional trauma as well as those who have developed PTSD. During the episode, Harry allows viewers to watch him as he undergoes the treatment, which involves eye movements (or other alternate hemisphere stimulation) to dampen the emotional charges associated with distressing thoughts and upsetting memories about the trauma. Harry says, “For me, London is a trigger, unfortunately, because of what happened to my mom and because of what I experienced and what I saw.”

What’s happening in the brain: Research suggests that EMDR activates mechanisms in the brain that allow you to reprocess distressing memories and emotions in a healthier way. The human brain is naturally wired to overcome upsetting events. A number of brain regions—including the hippocampus (memory-making center), amygdala (fear center), and prefrontal cortex (behavior center)—communicate with each other to effectively process the memories associated with these events. For some people, trauma disrupts the healthy flow of communication between these brain regions and disturbing memories get stuck. EMDR restores the healthy neural communication process so you can get unstuck.

4. Havening to soothe anxiety

In one of the episodes, Harry demonstrates a self-soothing technique called havening that can be helpful when feeling nervous or experiencing a panic attack. Developed by Ronald Ruden, M.D., havening is surprisingly simple. You can slowly rub your hands together as if washing them, slide your hands down from your shoulders to your elbows as if hugging yourself, or run your fingers from your forehead to your chin as if washing your face.

What’s happening in the brain: From a neuroscience perspective, havening is a form of bilateral hemisphere stimulation, meaning it activates both sides of the brain while you mentally bring up a stressful thought or past trauma. This touch technique generates delta waves in the brain, the brainwaves that usually occur during sleep and that help calm anxious feelings. At the same time, special nerve endings in the areas of the body being touched sends signals to the amygdala (the brain’s fear center) that indicate safety and security.

5. Recognizing ancestral trauma

In an interview with Dax Shepard on the actor’s Armchair Expert podcast, Harry revealed that he faced trauma that was passed down to him. The Duke of Sussex assured that he wasn’t placing blame on his parents, but he says, “If I’ve experienced some form of pain and suffering because of the pain or suffering that my father or my parents had suffered, I’m going to make sure I break that cycle so that I don’t pass it on.”

What’s happening in the brain: Sometimes your mental health issues are not your own, but rather they have been passed down to you through the generations from your ancestors. These irrational fears, anxieties, and worries are “ancestral dragons” that breathes fire on the emotional centers of the brain. Recognizing these dragons and learning to tame them can calm the brain’s emotional centers.

Going Beyond Mental Health to Brain Health

Kudos to Prince Harry for tackling these important issues! What a magnificent ambassador for emotional health and well-being.

Here’s to delving even deeper to show people how the brain is the ultimate key to mental health. Reframing the discussion from mental health to brain health changes everything. It decreases shame and guilt and increases forgiveness and compassion from their families. Reframing the discussion to brain health is also more accurate and elevates hope, increases the desire to get help, and increases compliance to make the necessary lifestyle changes. Once people understand that the brain controls everything they think, feel, say, and do, they want a better brain so they can have a better life. In multiple studies, including one in BMC Psychology, improving the physical functioning of the brain improves the mind.

Get your brain right and your mind will follow.

Anxiety, depression, emotional trauma, and other mental health issues can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever, and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

27 Comments

  1. I found all this info. very informative.

    Comment by Dyan Campbell — June 18, 2021 @ 6:21 AM

  2. Excellent article on Prince Harry

    Science bears what spiritual dimension has already espouse on generational issues / tendencies being passed down.
    Profoundly amazed by using havening/touch on different areas to “synchronize” or calm down areas of the brain. Add: yawning, rubbing lightly the sternum ( breast plate area) to soothe, and areas of the face.
    Blessings.

    May you prosper in health, even as your soul prospers. -3 John-

    Comment by R Kassner — June 19, 2021 @ 6:11 AM

  3. No wonder people are depicted as wringing their hands when they are worried or upset, and that they crave hugs in times of trouble. Thank you for your always informative pieces.

    Comment by Denise Caruselle — June 23, 2021 @ 3:31 AM

  4. This was very informative and I am from the Us, Michigan and it is hard to get help here from any doctor’s who really care you have to be careful because they like to to push a lot of drugs on you. That’s why I don’t want there help.

    Comment by Dorothy Reynolds — June 23, 2021 @ 3:48 AM

  5. Very informative. Enjoyed article very much.

    Comment by Jessica — June 23, 2021 @ 3:51 AM

  6. I myself realized I have been depressed so long unresolved issues it effected my whole health including my digestion. I had anxiety so bad I couldn’t get anything started or finished. I also realized its not a simple matter it took years to get here and it can take years to heal. Thanks for the info and Im praying for Harry and his family.

    Comment by Sherry Lynn Austad Rand — June 23, 2021 @ 4:01 AM

  7. Like Harry I’ve been traumatized. As a Higly Sensitive Person with hearing loss from childhood I’ve done a few things to try and help myself. EMDR, PhyK, EMF and years of counselling, to name just a few. The one thing that helped me was NUEROFEEDBACK, Well done Prince Harry for speaking out.

    Comment by Valerie Palmer — June 23, 2021 @ 4:34 AM

  8. Neurofeedback can be incredibly helpful as well

    Comment by Linda Edwards — June 23, 2021 @ 4:35 AM

  9. Thank you Dr Amen for your tireless work in the field of mental health and to Prince Harry for his crusade. I have suffered from depression in varing degrees since my mother died when I was 8 and I kept it a secret for 40 years. Secrecy was a trauma as much as the actual loss.

    Comment by Marcy Carmack — June 23, 2021 @ 4:52 AM

  10. Awesome Article! I learned of some new techniques to help calm my mind. I am still (unfortunately) not experiencing much change or relief since I was diagnosed with extremely severe ADD (with the help of my Amen Clinic Brain Scans). I’m not sure anymore how to go about the healing process to gain relief from my ADD struggles. Maybe a focused practice of Prince Harry’s techniques will help provide some semblance of relief.

    Comment by GLEN — June 23, 2021 @ 4:55 AM

  11. It is easy to pass judgement on Prince Harry. Nobody knows the pain he goes through. There is so much media publicity of the carefree, fun loving royalty. Nobody knows what happens behind closed doors. So all along, he was going through the motions of life according to the royal style of living. It might not be the lifestyle suited for him personally. There is also the question of his biological paternity. I can just guess that is a heavy issue. I have also entertained the thought that he finds his wife’s strong personality as something he needed and did not have during his formative years. Even boys and men need a mother from birth to maturity.

    Comment by Priscilla Gaines — June 23, 2021 @ 5:55 AM

  12. Very interesting article, and encouraging. It took real boldness to come forward with his own personal struggles of mental health issues and to start the conversation and chain reaction to real change.

    Comment by Karla Weiss — June 23, 2021 @ 6:05 AM

  13. This is a blessing. Thank you so much for sharing this Dr. Amen
    Shame and guilt opens the door to Trauma to enter deeper into our selves. It seems that moving away from shame and guilt and the denial that surrounds it is the vehicle that can liberate us.
    One question… Could it also be said that with good mind management that will also help and or to heal the Brain? That with the two working in tangent we could get Further Faster?
    Grateful for the work you do.
    Peace

    Comment by David Johnston — June 23, 2021 @ 6:07 AM

  14. I found this article to be very informative and self-reflective. I am going to pass it on to my son, who suffers from anxiety and depression. He suffered a similar loss when my son, his brother, died in a car accident almost thirty eight years ago. He turned to drugs and alcohol as well. Hopefully, he will read this, and know he is not alone.

    Comment by Maria Maxwell — June 23, 2021 @ 6:14 AM

  15. The information on Havening was especially helpful. Sheds light on why therapeutic bodywork can be medicinal.

    Comment by Lynda Beth Unkeless — June 23, 2021 @ 7:32 AM

  16. Thanks for sharing ❤️

    Comment by Daniel Brindley — June 23, 2021 @ 7:40 AM

  17. This information was very helpful to read.

    Comment by Kimberly Lambert — June 23, 2021 @ 7:41 AM

  18. Dr. Amen is a wealth of information and compassion.

    Comment by JoAnne — June 23, 2021 @ 7:43 AM

  19. “What a magnificent ambassador for emotional health and well-being.” – EXACTLY – Thanks from Poland

    Comment by Sabina Gatti — June 23, 2021 @ 10:01 AM

  20. How much I have suffered and continue to in silence. Unsupported family, spouse and love ones expect so much. Expectations are extremely high and so tired of hiding my struggles.

    Comment by Peggy Enriquez — June 23, 2021 @ 11:04 AM

  21. Daniel, Bravo!
    Thank you for supporting Prince Harry whose mental health disclosures have created even more public trauma that could have set him back, but you’ve reframed what he’s doing as courageous and compassionate service. I agree, whole-heartedly. Additionally, you’ve empowered the term Brain Health to be more useful in describing our own challenges around the stigma of emotional, mental and. psychological issues. My family and I have yet another reason to be grateful to you after years of well-being from following your suggestions and teachings.

    Comment by Patty Woodmansee — June 23, 2021 @ 11:24 AM

  22. Really appreciate the work you are doing.

    Comment by Jason D. Strauss — June 23, 2021 @ 12:22 PM

  23. I love how the article correlates what’s happening in the brain while going through the 5 takeaways shared by Price Harry. Thank you for sharing such an important topic so very needed by most people that don’t even realize there is help out there.

    Comment by Patty Leon — June 23, 2021 @ 4:14 PM

  24. A very powerful article with much information worth investigating. All people who do not have physical brain damage are geniuses and can make miracles in their chosen fields. The main thing holding us back is mental and emotional issues. If only all people had easy access to ways of resolving these problems, the world would be a better place for all of us.

    Comment by MICHAEL JANKO — June 23, 2021 @ 7:07 PM

  25. Good work, blessings to you and yours.

    Comment by LaVonne Helmer — June 23, 2021 @ 8:09 PM

  26. A very big thank you to Prince Harry and for Dr Amens acknowledgement of him. He is such a courageous and compassionate man full of empathy and doing this work for others. It was a very bold step to step down from the Royal lifestyle but with Meghan help he did it. He spoke about things that are hidden with a stiff upper lip in the Royal family and just like the Queen not dealing with Charles when he was younger and when he craved love from his parents so the patterns continues but like Harry says he had to break that because of his son and now daughter. I applaud him and Dr Amen for putting everything out there so he doesn’t have to hide behind the shame and guilt anymore. What an amazing young man and what an amazing father and mother he and Meghan will be. Praying for you bith Meghan and Harry and for the amazing work you both are doing……

    Comment by Ceidre Hayward — June 25, 2021 @ 6:39 AM

  27. Prince Harry should look into how much damage Meghan is doing to her father by not allowing him to see his grandson. Lots of physical ( stress, physical pain) and emotional pain she’s causing her father. And later pain for the kids keeping them from having a relationship w their grandfather. Everyone is flawed. Meghan may cause her father an early death. She doesn’t practice what she preaches. All that love she supposedly has.

    Comment by Maria Villa — June 27, 2021 @ 9:23 PM

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