What Can We Learn from Celebrity Suicides?

There are many that when asked the question, ‘would you like to be a celebrity?’ would likely answer yes. We often idealize the lifestyles we believe they lead, assuming they are all rich, happy, and content. However, like any other suicide situation, celebrity suicides teach us that any person can be suffering from places of deep pain, poor health, and disillusion with life. 

Because celebrities live such a public lifestyle, society often falsely assumes that they know everything going on in their lives. This assumption often leads people to be extremely shocked by celebrity suicides. It also reveals a significant social stigma still associated with those who are both open about their mental wellness (or lack thereof) and choose to seek assistance for them. Many celebrities do not feel safe discussing depression and loneliness, so they choose to hide it. Some believe that the inability to be truthful, open, and honest can exacerbate mental health issues, in some instances leading to the loss of life via suicide. We must choose to learn from these public episodes of death by recognizing that to assume every rich celebrity is happy is an ignorant conclusion that is also dismissive of the full spectrum of mental wellness.  

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Obsession with Celebrity Suicide

The recent deaths of celebrities Anthony Bourdain and designer Kate Spade have again evidenced that the public likes to honestly and openly discuss mental health and suicide when someone famous takes their own life. This may be due to the pedestal that our culture places celebrities on. We often envy them, their lifestyles, and their supposed freedoms. However, when a tragedy like celebrity suicide strikes, it also forces the public to ask some hard questions about their suppositions related to celebrity, wealth, happiness, and wellness. In a roundabout way, this is an excellent impact on celebrity suicide. 

The public nature of celebrity suicide forces society to ask some hard questions. We begin to question the relationship between mental wellness and cultural markers of success. The media often focuses intensely on the celebrities’ unknown or disguised mental health condition, as their accomplishments and success fall to the background. This media and social mess forces all of us to ask ‘should their death define them?’ and ‘if celebrities can be depressed, then can’t many of us too?’

According to an article from Globe and Mail, everyday approximately 3,000 people across the world take their own life. The piece goes on to state “For every suicide, an estimated 20 other people who suffer from depression, anxiety or other forms of psychiatric and psychological pain attempt to end their lives.” These numbers are astounding, yet many of us never question suicide or its global impact until someone famous takes their life. 

Is suicide common with celebrities? Some research indicates yes, possibly related to intense media and public scrutiny and an inability to maintain privacy as related to their healthcare concerns. But, the numbers from the Globe and Mail indicate that there are millions of people across the world who suffer from mental health issues. We must stop assuming that celebrities are so different than the rest of us, as well as acknowledge that significant struggles with mental health and wellness don’t exclude the rich and famous.

A Societal Problem

Erasing the stigmas associated with depression and loneliness can start with learning from celebrity suicides. Their deaths show that money, fame, or popularity cannot cure internal pain; mental health is a condition that extends much deeper and requires far more help and assistance before any movement towards healing.

Some believe that the mental state of our culture is in a downward spiral, largely related to materialistic accumulation, instant gratification, social media, and depleting ‘real’ social support. Though we consistently promote physical well-being through behaviors like eating healthy, exercising, and preventative care, we rarely focus on our mental health. We must learn to look at the full picture of health, understanding that our cognitive, physical, emotional, and mental states all play a significant role in overall wellness. 

Many individuals who desire mental wellness care like therapy or counseling will find that their insurance does not cover those visits or needs, leaving people financially unable to seek the mental care that they need (or having to choose what to give up to make it work). This lack of access and affordability to mental health care needs to change. The poor focus on and respect for mental wellness can leave those with mental health problems feeling as if they are an unwelcome, misunderstood, unimportant minority, when the statistics related to mental wellness clearly relay this is not true. The majority of individuals, including those without a diagnosis, could benefit from regular mental health check-ins and assistance. 

Finding a Solution

Instead of waiting until another celebrity commits suicide, we need to address the problems of social isolation, depression and loneliness now. To encourage people to get help, mental rehabilitation and care need to be a part of normal healthcare services. We must continue to do the good work of destigmatizing these very normal aspects and challenges of life. We can use celebrities as an example of how difficult it is to be our true selves, but we must also understand that they, like us, have many of the same worries, fears, struggles and isolations.

The freedom to express our individualism, both the good and the hard things, is integral to this healing process. Addressing potential areas of abuse and trauma early can greatly limit the chances of prolonged depression in adulthood. Spiritual outlets should not be viewed as fringe practices; they can be a healthy piece of the wholeness process. Lastly, trusting ourselves as well as finding others we can trust is so important for getting the help that many of us need. 

Depression is more common than we think, yet it still has not been fully addressed as an epidemic that needs an immediate solution. We must continue to learn from celebrity suicides, as they provide the very public proof that many people are hiding severe unhappiness and need our help, love, support and respect.

ABA Programs Guide Staff

Updated April 2020

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