Meghan Markle has revealed she was "the most trolled person in the entire world" in a candid discussion marking World Mental Health Day.
Markle and her husband, Prince Harry, spoke to the student-run podcast Teenager Therapy from their Santa Barbara villa regarding the ongoing stigma associated with mental illness, also addressing their own personal battles.
The Sussexes have weathered their fair share of storms following the fallout from their highly-publicised pursuit of financial independence. The Duke and Duchess announced they would be stepping back from their senior roles in the Royal Family earlier this year - a controversial decision that divided commentators and allegedly the family itself, with reports the move deepened an existing rift among the royals.
Harry himself has openly discussed his struggles with mental illness in the past, revealing he underwent counselling following the death of his mother, Princess Diana, and has battled depression.
Speaking to hosts Gael, Thomas and Kayla, Markle said she had lived experience with poor mental health due to the impacts of intense media scrutiny as an influential figure in the public eye. The Duchess has been subjected to sustained campaigns of criticism by the press and social media commentators on multiple accounts, with the attacks linked by some to underlying racism and misogyny.
"I can speak personally because I'm told that in 2019 I was the most trolled person in the entire world - male or female," she said.
"Now eight months of that, I wasn't even visible. I was on maternity leave or with a baby.
"But what was able to just be manufactured and churned out - it's almost unsurvivable - people are saying things about you that aren't true [and] what that does to your mental and emotional health is so damaging."
Markle noted that battling poor mental health is a "human experience" that does not discriminate, regardless of wealth or status.
"Even though our experience is unique to us - and obviously can seem very different to what people experience on the day-to-day - it's still a human experience and that's universal. We all know what it feels like to have our feelings hurt, we all know what it feels like to be isolated or 'othered'," she said.
"For Meghan, [it was on] a global scale, that's what happened in 2019 - but if you're a young girl or young boy at school, that's your world, so if you're being attacked, or being bullied or whatever is online - it feels the same," Prince Harry added.
The Duchess, 39, acknowledged she is currently doing "really well" and is grateful for her health and home during this period of uncertainty and fear. She said the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic had increasingly pushed people towards the internet, a space of "vulnerability" and "disconnection".
"We've felt incredibly grateful and fortunate to be able to have [an] outdoor space where our son can walk his first steps. Outdoor space where he can just have enough space to run and move around," Harry pitched in.
"It's a huge blessing."
Offering his advice, the Duke said self-care should be prioritised and reiterated that vulnerability is not a weakness, urging people to open up about their struggles to help normalise and continue the discourse around the topic.
He also said he made a conscious decision not to engage with online hate and has removed himself from the negativity of the social media space.
Markle also addressed the comments she made during an interview with ITV's Tom Bradby during the couple's documented tour of Africa last year.
In the televised interview, the journalist asked the Duchess how she was feeling, to which a visibly overwhelmed and emotional Markle responded: "Not many people have asked if I'm okay".
Her reply, which garnered significant attention, was a "moment of vulnerability", Markle told the podcast.
"I just answered honestly - it was just, 'here's where I am, I'm a mum who is with a four-and-half-month-old baby and we are tired'. But I think it... resonated with people because everyone wants to be asked if they're okay."
According to the Daily Mail, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex learned about the podcast - which typically features five students from Loara High School in Anaheim, California - after reading a New York Times' profile of the young hosts in July. After listening to a few episodes, the couple decided they wanted to support the teens' work.
It was announced last year that Prince Harry would partner with veteran talk-show host Oprah Winfrey as co-creators of an upcoming, multi-part documentary series for Apple regarding mental illness and mental wellbeing.
Their podcast appearance comes weeks after reports suggested the Sussexes were set to be offered a seven-figure deal to produce podcasts for streaming giant, Spotify.