Sam Schumacher — a 31-year-old aerospace engineer graduate who helped set up OneWave, a local surfing community dedicated to raising awareness for mental health and well-being in an engaging way — tells PEOPLE that when the royal couple joined their “anti bad vibe circle” to discuss the issue, Harry touched on his own struggles.
“Basically he showed us that actually opening up and talking about your emotions is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness,” Schumacher said of the 34-year-old royal. “And the sooner you can do that, it actually helps you so much. That was the thing that helped him so much.”
Harry previously shared that he dealt with grief following the death of his mother, Princess Diana.
“I can safely say that losing my mom at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well,” he told The Telegraph. “It was 20 years of not thinking about it, and two years of total chaos.”
One of the members of the anti bad vibe circle, Charlotte Connell, told The Guardian, “Harry said each and everyone of us will experience poor mental health at some stage in our lives.”
She added, “Harry said, ‘It took me not six months, but 18 months to find the right person to speak to – you’re not going to find the right person to speak to straight away.’ ”
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The royal also alluded to his own personal struggles with mental health after others in the group told their stories.
“He shared what he’s learned along the way, how powerful it is, just community and people helping people,” Schumaker says. “And just being there to look out for each other. And talking.”
Members of OneWave get together weekly for “Fluro Friday,” where they share stories then surf, swim and do yoga – and there’s a good reason behind their colorful ensembles.
“We dress in all sorts of crazy fluro gear – animal suits, onesies, whatever you can find in the wardrobe that you’d only wear to a dress-up party. And we go surfing in it. And along the way we create conversations around mental health,” Schumacher explains. “You’re walking down the street and someone might notice what you’re wearing and say, ‘What’s that?’ So for the first time we’ve got this opportunity to talk about mental health where normally it’s such a hard conversation to start.”
Meghan and Harry were offered leis to spice up their own outfits — although the prince joked he felt “underdressed!”
OneWave has spread to multiple locations around Australia and the rest of the world, including one in Venice Beach, in Meghan’s home state of California.