Is Our Celebrity Obsession Helping to De-Stigmatize Mental Illness?

A rash of teen idols, singers, actors, and actresses have all come out recently detailing their struggles. 

 

Demi Lovato
Actress, singer, and songwriter Demi Lovato is now a mental healthcare advocate.

Few things in our society are stigmatized quite like mental illness. Most people try to hide it or manage it on their own. Few seek help. But it is exceedingly common. Nearly one in five Americans – 42.5 million adults – wrestles with it. Worldwide one in four, or 450 million people, suffer with some sort of psychological issue.  


Everyone has their own problems of course, both physical and psychological, to one degree or another. Yet, as humans, our high regard for the brain, intellect, and stability make mental illness seem more shocking and less acceptable. Perhaps for certain societies, it harks back to the idea that those with mental illness are possessed by an evil spirt or even satan. With the advent of science, mental illness became seen as a personal failing rather than a spiritual one.

Though seeking treatment may be more acceptable now, the issue of mental illness itself is more pressing today than it has been in decades. The teen suicide rate for instance rose 25% between 1999 and 2014, after a steady downward trend through the '80s and '90s. Today, girls are particularly prone. But it isn’t just teens. Every adult age group under age 75 has seen a significant increase in its suicide rate. The numbers are even more disturbing if we consider that far more attempt the act than accomplish it.

One thing that captures our imagination is celebrities. Whether splashed across magazine covers or TV and movie screens, celebrities are the royalty of the modern era. They’ve reached almost godlike status. Outbursts and jaunts with mental illness and substance abuse among them is certainly nothing new. But today, more and more are speaking out about living with a psychological disorder in a deeply personal way, and experts wonder if this might not make a more substantial impression and so lessen the stigma.

Teen idol Selena Gomez recently opened up about her struggles with anxiety and depression at the American Music Awards. After accepting hers for favorite female rock-pop artist, she said that along her journey, though she soon “had everything,” she often felt “absolutely broken inside.” Ms. Gomez drove herself hard so as to not disappoint her fans, but forgot to devote some energy to herself. Her advice: “If you are broken, you don’t have to stay broken.”

 

Selena Gomez recently spoke out about her struggles with anxiety and depression at the American Music Awards.

Gomez wasn’t the only celebrity popular among young people to open up. Justin Bieber, actress Rowan Blanchard, and model and actress Cara Delevingne have all recently revealed having depression. Singer and songwriter Halsey went one step further in an interview with Billboard about bipolar disorder. Adele similarly discussed her bout with postpartum depression with Vanity Fair. Bieber and Blanchard instead opened up via Instagram.

Other celebrities who have “come out” in this manner include JK Rowling, Brooke Shields, Glenn Close, and Lena Dunham, though in the case of Close, it was her sister she was supporting. Actress, singer, and songwriter Demi Lovato became so passionate about mental healthcare, that she is now the spokesperson for the, “Be Vocal: Speak Up for Mental Health” campaign. “If you know someone or if you’re dealing with it yourself, just know that it is possible to live well,” she told People. “I’m living proof of that.”   

This isn’t occurring only amongst celebrity women. In Bruce Springsteen’s recent autobiography Born to Run, he talks about his lifelong battle with depression. African-American men, perhaps due to a macho streak, have culturally been one of the least likely to open up about certain struggles. But rapper Kid Cudi has gone against the grain. He recently discussed with fans on his Facebook page his decision to check into rehab for anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. In the last several years, hip-hop has become more emotional.  

Mental health issues are being treated differently by Hollywood nowadays too. It used to be that those with mental illness were depicted as raving lunatics, to be locked away in frightening, prison-like institutions. Today shows like FXX’s You’re the Worst and films such as Silver Linings Playbook show a more human side, with characters we relate to and feel for.

Hip-hop artist Kid Cudi recently opened up about his bouts with depression and thoughts of suicide.

So is this trend a case of celebrities leading the way, or is the stigma surrounding mental health issues beginning to recede? After all, in American society, acceptance of psychotherapy became far more widespread starting the 1960s, and Patty Duke arguably in the '80s was the first superstar to advocate for mental health. Harvard Square psychotherapist Melissa Kelly told the Boston Globe that this new celebrity trend is very helpful for those who are struggling, especially young people.

Even so, she has noticed that among millennials, opening up to each other about seeing a therapist and working on themselves is more acceptable. It is not seen as a failing of character, but merely a part of “self-care.” A recent Harris Poll backs this up. It found that among those ages 18 to 25, receiving mental healthcare is more acceptable than for older adults.

So is this a case of life reflecting art or the other way around? That might be hard to tease out. Even so, a stigma remains. But for someone with a serious disorder, such as depression, hearing that your favorite celebrity has suffered similar struggles and yet, still managed to make their dreams come true, can be incredibly heartening. It may even give them the motivation to seek help for themselves.

To learn more about the stigma surrounding mental illness, click here: 

What does kindness look like? It wears a mask.

Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling has an important favor to ask of the American people.

Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Michael Dowling is president and CEO of Northwell Health, the largest health care system in New York state. In this PSA, speaking as someone whose company has seen more COVID-19 patients than any other in the country, Dowling implores Americans to wear masks—not only for their own health, but for the health of those around them.
  • The CDC reports that there have been close to 7.9 million cases of coronavirus reported in the United States since January. Around 216,000 people have died from the virus so far with hundreds more added to the tally every day. Several labs around the world are working on solutions, but there is currently no vaccine for COVID-19.
  • The most basic thing that everyone can do to help slow the spread is to practice social distancing, wash your hands, and to wear a mask. The CDC recommends that everyone ages two and up wear a mask that is two or more layers of material and that covers the nose, mouth, and chin. Gaiters and face shields have been shown to be less effective at blocking droplets. Homemade face coverings are acceptable, but wearers should make sure they are constructed out of the proper materials and that they are washed between uses. Wearing a mask is the most important thing you can do to save lives in your community.
Keep reading Show less

Science confirms: Earth has more than one 'moon'

Two massive clouds of dust in orbit around the Earth have been discussed for years and finally proven to exist.

J. Sliz-Balogh, A. Barta and G. Horvath
Surprising Science
  • Hungarian astronomers have proven the existence of two "pseudo-satellites" in orbit around the earth.
  • These dust clouds were first discovered in the sixties, but are so difficult to spot that scientists have debated their existence since then.
  • The findings may be used to decide where to put satellites in the future and will have to be considered when interplanetary space missions are undertaken.
Keep reading Show less

Millennials reconsidering finances and future under COVID-19

A new survey found that 27 percent of millennials are saving more money due to the pandemic, but most can't stay within their budgets.

Personal Growth
  • Millennials have been labeled the "unluckiest generation in U.S. history" after the one-two financial punch of the Great Recession and the pandemic shutdowns.
  • A recent survey found that about a third of millennials felt financially unprepared for the pandemic and have begun saving.
  • To achieve financial freedom, millennials will need to take control of their finances and reinterpret their relationship with the economy.
  • Keep reading Show less

    6 easy ways to transition to a plant-based diet

    Your health and the health of the planet are not indistinguishable.

    Credit: sonyakamoz / Adobe Stock
    Personal Growth
    • Transitioning to a plant-based diet could help reduce obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.
    • Humans are destroying entire ecosystems to perpetuate destructive food habits.
    • Understanding how to properly transition to a plant-based diet is important for success.
    Keep reading Show less
    Culture & Religion

    Karma doesn't work how most people think it does

    Eastern traditions have complex views on how karma affects your life.

    Scroll down to load more…
    Quantcast