Prince Harry is Joining a Mental Health Startup in Silicon Valley
Former Prince Harry is living one version of the American dream: He's moved to California and inked a podcast deal.
He's also now stepped into perhaps the ultimate American dream role as "chief impact officer" of the mental health startup BetterUp. The company provides mobile-based mental health services to the masses.
"As BetterUp's first Chief Impact Officer, my goal is to lift up critical dialogues around mental health, build supportive and compassionate communities and foster an environment for honest and vulnerable conversations. And my hope is to help people develop their inner strength, resilience and confidence," Harry said.
In a note, the company's CEO Alexi Roubichaux praised Harry's experience and previous work with mental health initiatives, writing, "As a true citizen of the world, he has dedicated his life's work to bringing attention to the diverse needs of people everywhere and advocating for mental health initiatives: from founding the Invictus Games, a platform for service personnel to use sport as part of their psychological and physical rehabilitation, to launching Sentebale, which supports the mental health and wellbeing of young people affected by HIV in Lesotho and Botswana."
BetterUp, valued at $1.7 billion, currently employs 3,000 coaches and works for over 300 companies.
It seems Harry's new career is personal for him. "This is about acknowledging that it isn't so much what is wrong with us, but more about what has happened to us over the course of life," Harry told The Wall Street Journal.
"Often because of societal barriers, financial difficulty, or stigma, too many people aren't able to focus on their mental health until they're forced to," he said. "I want us to move away from the idea that you have to feel broken before reaching out for help."
Harry also has personal experience with the service. "I've personally found working with a BetterUp coach to be invaluable," the former prince said. "I was matched with a truly awesome coach who has given me sound advice and a fresh perspective. And because we believe in strengthening our own mental fitness, our entire Archewell team also has access to BetterUp coaching," the Duke of Sussex said. Archewell is the non-profit organization he founded with Meghan Markle.
In a recent interview with Oprah, Markle spoke out about some of her disturbing experiences as part of the royal family in Britain, including questions about her son's skin color. She said she had experienced suicidal thoughts while being a part of the family, which catalyzed the couple's flight from the crown.
The conversation sparked dialogue about mental health and the relevancy of the British monarchy, a historically colonialist force (to say the least) in a modernizing world. Markle may have represented the family's shift towards progressivism, but her revelations indicate that the monarchy may be sporting rifts that cannot be closed.
Markle's experiences reflect those of Princess Diana, Prince Harry's mother, who suffered with mental health issues and, like Markle is today, was beloved by millions — even more so after she left the palace.
"My biggest concern was history repeating itself," Harry confessed in the Oprah interview. "And I've said that before, on numerous occasions, very publicly," he said. "What I was seeing was history repeating itself. More perhaps, or far more dangerously, because then you add race in, and social media in. And when I'm talking about history repeating itself, I'm talking about my mother."
Harry recently referenced Diana in a forward to a British children's book called Hospital on a Hill. "When I was a young boy I lost my mum," he wrote. "At the time, I didn't want to believe it or accept it, and it left a huge hole inside of me...I know how you feel, and I want to assure you that over time that hole will be filled with so much love and support." The book will be available for free to children who lost parents during COVID-19.
It seems that Harry is trying his best to use his experiences for good in the world, turning his back on his family's notoriously stiff upper lip and trying to provide vital mental health services for the people.
But one does have to wonder how he will fare in Silicon Valley and if an executive position at a startup will bring him what he's looking for. Despite their often noble mission statements and ostensible efforts to promote healthy living, tech firms are notoriously corrupt, ruinous to employee mental health, and money-hungry, and new start-ups in particular can have brutal corporate cultures.
One has to wonder how different Harry will find his position in the looping crush of the American workforce from the tightly wound structures of the monarchy — though of course it's impossible for most of us laypeople to know what royalty (or app development) is truly like. One would hope that a mental health-based corporation has a better culture and stronger ethics than your average social media conglomerate; but in a world based on algorithms and profit, it's hard to say for sure.
Meghan and Harry also just inked deals with Spotify and Netflix, both massive media conglomerates. Clearly, they're trying to retake control of their own narratives, but they'll have to balance their desire to tell authentic and meaningful stories with the importance of creating content that grabs the public's attention and fulfills quotas on these platforms, along with the scrutiny that all high-profile media releases receive.
And with all these high-profile deals, they are certainly not retreating from their location in the center of the public eye. On the other hand, they clearly are genuinely determined to use their power and their storytelling for good. Let's just hope that their journey from the British to American media landscape helps them find what they're looking for.