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There’s a point in Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry’s new mental-health-awareness docuseries, The Me You Can’t See (Apple TV+), when it must be granted how great a spokesman the royal is for this particular cause. The Duke of Sussex has next to nothing in common with the vast majority of the people who’ll tune in to this five-part series, but — not unlike his late mother, in whose steps he’s following here — he’s able to transform his wealth, pedigree and fame into building blocks for an unexpected bridge with his audience, as if to say, “I have all this, and yet I suffer from that, too.” To the Windsors’ embarrassment and disbelief, Diana talked to the press about her suicide attempts, eating disorders and postpartum depression — and was embraced by the public for it. Her most effective tool in destigmatizing mental-health struggles were her openness and vulnerability, and now they are his.
Harry isn’t the only interviewee in The Me You Can’t See: There are moving testimonies from Lady Gaga, basketball player DeMar DeRozan and Zak Williams (son of Robin), as well as ordinary people with moderate and severe disabilities. Winfrey discusses her own childhood traumas, but inserts herself into the documentary mostly as a model of empathy and ongoing learning — someone who thought she knew a lot about mental health, only to discover she didn’t know anywhere near enough to help those around her. To Winfrey’s credit, included in the doc is a scene where a woman with PTSD whom the celebrity has known for years — and whose treatment she’s paid for — turns to the camera after ending a conversation with the TV icon and sighs, “Sometimes I just feel like she doesn’t get it.”
It’s easy to be cynical about The Me You Can’t See, despite its professional polish, undeniable poignancy and thoughtful inclusivity. Full of headline-worthy revelations, the series often functions as a sort of brand extension: of the explosive Oprah With Meghan and Harry special earlier this year, of Harry (and William’s) years-long campaigns for mental health, of Winfrey’s influential daytime talk show, whose reputation in recent years has been somewhat tarnished for its role in promoting junk-science boosters like Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil. The most immediate question that a glossy doc like this (especially siloed on a niche streaming service seemingly targeted at a high-income viewership) prompts is what kind of impact it can really have, when access to social and psychological services in the U.S. are already so stratified by class. What’s the use of a docuseries that aims itself at the kind of people who are already the best positioned to get the kind of help it endorses?
And yet it can’t be denied that Prince Harry is a surprisingly apt champion for seeking care. Four years ago, he says, he started getting therapy after experiencing panic attacks and severe anxiety. He’s frank and articulate in listing his symptoms and the coping strategies — like binge drinking on the weekends — that didn’t help. The world’s familiarity with his biography and presumed familial context, such as the abrupt death of his mother when he was 12 and the stoic silence with which the Windsors dealt with the loss, bolster his narrative of a young man who’s decided to buck tradition by asking for help. His desire to alleviate his pain and, perhaps even more compellingly, play his part in ending the intergenerational trauma and repression in his family by getting treatment solidify the series’ throughlines. The Me You Can’t See’s strong thematic coherence all but suggests that Harry has rehearsed these talking points, but his delivery feels natural and persuasive.
The documentary features a wide cross section of ordinary people: a sensitive Black man who carries the psychological weight of racism; a 20-something Latina diagnosed with schizophrenia; a female athlete with OCD and an eating disorder; a college-age daughter of Taiwanese immigrants struggling to have her mother understand the need to treat her depression. There’s a welcome focus on the vulnerabilities inherent to young adulthood and campus life. Only in one instance does the camera feel more intrusive than invited — the case of a preteen Syrian refugee who’s asked to talk, gently but still uncomfortably, about his brother’s death by bombing. The trauma of war refugees is urgent and underdiscussed, but the youth and extreme circumstances of the participant certainly make for a stark contrast to all the other interviewees — adults who have had at least some time to process their experiences before telling their stories on camera.
Ultimately, it’s the celebrity or celebrity-associated tales that stand out most — not because they’re famous, but, at least in the first three episodes, because they’re the most candid about their experiences. An unvarnished Lady Gaga is like we’ve seldom seen her before as she describes the chronic pain and a psychotic break that were the aftermath of being raped at age 19 — and the resistance she initially felt toward the idea that her symptoms could be treated by a psychiatrist. (What was she doing during her two-and-a-half-year recovery process? Winning an Oscar, she says, with a disbelieving laugh.) Winfrey, too, recalls how unprepared she and the South African girls school she founded were for many of the students’ histories of sexual trauma.
But the lingering image of The Me You Can’t See may well be Prince Harry on a couch, practicing self-calming exercises by tapping his shoulders and redirecting his eye movements as he imagines flying into London — a situation that used to trigger anxiety attacks. Without the clinical context, he looks a bit silly, but you can see him visibly relax over the course of the exercise and, by the end, break out into a huge grin as he registers its effectiveness. Prince Harry is clearly eager to do the work and be seen doing it, judgment be damned.
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