Spoiler alert! The following post discusses important plot points in Netflix’s “Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story,” so proceed with caution if you haven’t seen it yet.
In real-life and in fiction, life isn’t always carefree, even for royalty.
Last week saw the release of Netflix’s “Queen Charlotte,” which delved into the deteriorating mental health of a monarch. In the real world, millions watched as King Charles III was crowned, marking a new era in British royalty that has the potential to champion mental health more than the royal family has ever before.
There’s a cultural belief that we think royalty should be in a good place mentally: Money is a non-issue; they live in a literal palace. But “Queen Charlotte” and an increasingly vocal portion of the royal family reminds us anyone can struggle with mental health issues.
Experts say power can cause a unique kind of stress, and it’s important these discussions are finally being brought to public consciousnesses.
Historically, mental health has been a “cover up at all costs” issue, says Andrea Bonior, a clinical psychologist and host of the “Baggage Check: Mental Health Talk and Advice” podcast. “We’ve never in the past opened an actual dialogue in real-time about what that means and talked about it in a supportive way.”
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Did King George III have a mental illness? Netflix’s ‘Queen Charlotte’ explores real-life royal history
Netflix makes it clear from the start that “Queen Charlotte” is “fiction inspired by fact.” While it takes creative liberties, the basis of the story − a young woman is brought to marry the King of England and later learns of his struggles with mental illness − stems from truth. Historians believe King George III had bipolar disorder.
Though understanding of mental illnesses was essentially nonexistent in the 1700s, the show casts a 21st century lens in its compassion for a young man struggling while facing immense pressure from the outside world. At several points, George’s episodes are triggered by pressures of his duties as king. He finds solace and tranquility in being outside, tending to the palace’s farm.
“The king is not mad. The king is merely exhausted from holding the greatest nation in the world on his shoulders. What could you know about the weight of that on a boy?” his mother, Princess Augusta, says in Episode 4.
Fact check:The real history behind ‘Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story’
“The pressure of leadership, especially back in that era when (being king) wasn’t an ornamental role, the idea that you owed it to an entire country to make the right choices and that those choices would be scrutinized and that the stakes can be very high… that’s very stressful,” says Bonior.
Historic perceptions of leadership were that “any sign of health issues, or mental health issues, are instantly perceived as a weakness,” says U.K.-based psychotherapist Lizandra Leigertwood. That perception, in turn, can exacerbate these issues.
“The impact of being scrutinized and judged for something that isn’t in your control can really negatively impact a person’s mental health,” she adds. “It feel like a shameful secret and having to hide a part of themselves that I imagine would feel very exhausting and isolating. It can prevent them from seeking or getting the help and support they need.”
King Charles’ coronation, Princes William and Harry and the modern-day royal family’s relationship with mental health
Though the role of British monarchs has shifted, the royal family is still positioned as a diplomatic representative of the United Kingdom, and as such still needs to represent the country in a positive way. The late Queen Elizabeth II was famous for her mantra: “Never complain, never explain.”
King Charles III was officially crowned over the weekend, ushering in a new generation of leadership in the British royal family. Charles has not publicly addressed the issue of mental health, nor have many other royals of his generation or before. But some 200 years after King George III’s death, could the British royal family’s perspective on acknowledging mental health issues improve?
The younger generations are showing promising signs: Charles’ sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, have both spoken out on the issue. William, who is next in line to the throne, previously shared a low point in his mental health stemming from seeing trauma during his time as as an air ambulance pilot, and urged others to ask for help when they need it. Harry, who stepped back as a senior member of the royal family in 2020, partnered with Oprah Winfrey for an Apple TV+ series on mental health, serves as chief impact officer for mental health organization BetterUp, and has spoken about his own experiences with therapy and mental health struggles as a result of the death of his mother, Princess Diana, and the pressures of media following his every move.
“It’s a huge pivot from the royal family’s tradition of not openly showing struggles,” says Leigertwood, though she notes “there have been some mixed and inconsistent messaging in regards to the importance of mental health,” such as the public reaction to Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, speaking up about her mental health struggles compared to Prince William doing the same.
“Showing more consistency in their approach to mental health would certainly give the important conversation about these issues more validation,” Leigertwood says. “It doesn’t matter how your life might look on the outside, mental health challenges can effect anyone.”
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