It’s Time To Stop Pretending Mental Health Doesn’t Affect The Rich And Famous
On April 20 the entertainment industry turned its default setting to mourning at the hands of mental health once more, as another respected artist lost their life to suicide.
When news broke of Avicii’s untimely death, floods of fans took to social media to express their condolences.
Likewise, their surprise at hearing the 28-year-old world-famous Swedish DJ was battling demons he’d long kept hidden from his 8.5 million followers on Instagram was palpable.
Only upon the release of a behind-the-scenes documentary did the world become privy to the disconnect between reality and fame for Tim Bergling, and many others like him.
You can watch the trailer for Avicii: True Stories below:
Even as the number of people globally diagnosed with mental health issues continues to rise, a minority of commentators dismissed Avicii’s suicide in comments sections, falsely claiming someone with his success, talent and wealth couldn’t possibly experience stress.
This Mental Health Awareness Week, when the Mental Health Foundation looks at the stress epidemic and how to combat it, UNILAD examines why some still think money and success can cure medical matters of the mind.
Why do these bigotries still exist when the world bears witness to stories like Tim’s time and time again?
Only last week, the wife of Chester Bennington, the front man of Linkin Park who died by suicide in July 2017, aged 41, called out the media for perpetrating the stigma of suicide in the language use to describe Avicii’s death.
The Samaritans’ media guidelines for reporting suicide advise it is inappropriate to use the word ‘committed’ as it implies criminal wrongdoing.
In fact, the Suicide Act 1961 decriminalised taking one’s own life in UK law over fifty years ago.
Incidentally, that’s 33 years before Kurt Cobain died by suicide in his Seattle home on April 5, 1994. And yet, it seems societal taboos haven’t shifted much since then.
Media guidelines also stress the dangers of reporting specific details of the method the deceased used to take their own life, so as to protect others having suicidal feelings.
Over time, suicide has taken a multitude of musicians, including Keith Emerson and Ian Curtis, as well as Michael Hutchence.
More recently, just months before Chester Bennington lost his battle with lifelong depression, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Audioslave took his own life after playing a gig in Detroit, aged 52.
Even in this supposedly progressive time, former Foo Fighters lead guitarist, Franz Stahl, took to social media to accuse Cornell of ‘selfishly’ leaving his children, ignorantly ignoring the fact that depression can challenge the lives of fathers, sons, men, women, and children alike.
Just take 24-year-old Chris Hardman, otherwise known as ‘Lil Chris’, and K-Pop superstar Kim Jong-hyun of SHINee who died by suicide, aged 27, in 2015 and 2017 respectively.
UNILAD Sound talked to the UK’s own James Arthur about his depression, as well as Lucy Spraggan about her anxieties, and the weight of other people’s hate.
Laura Mvula also contributed her thoughts on the unique anxieties which coincide with fame:
Clare Scivier, a behavioural psychologist with 20 years experience in A&R, told UNILAD:
The entertainment business is rife with sex scandals, heavy alcohol and drug use. The endless award ceremonies are a great demonstration of the non-stop party culture.
As the work of musicians, actors, and performers is consumed in the public’s spare time confusion occurs and blurs lines between work and play.
It’s nothing new, she says, but between all the travel, lack of training to deal with anxiety and nerves, inexperienced managers as well as support staff who encourage self-medication, Scivier has seen how the entertainment industry can exacerbate pre-existing conditions like bipolar and autism.
Surely, we all remember feeling a great loss at the death of Robin Williams, the beloved comic who was posthumously diagnosed with diffuse Lewy body dementia, a physical condition his wife later said made him feel he was ‘losing his mind’.
The man who used his talent to spread joy famously said:
I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.
We’ve seen cases of suicide occur across all entertainment industries, from fashion designer Alexander McQueen, to August Ames, the award-winning adult film actress – real name was Mercedes Grabowski – who took her own life on December 5, 2017 at the age of 23.
Dr Arthur Cassidy, Social Media and Celebrity Psychologist, told UNILAD:
High profile celebrities find it extremely difficult to lead a normal life for many reasons. Their worldwide fans know lots about them but they know nothing about their fans. It’s known as ‘parasocial interaction’.
Many A-lister’s suffer from chronic fears and anxieties due mostly to pressures from fans who have unrealistic expectations of their daily lives – and expect more rock concerts and more albums with higher ratings.
This puts them under unrealistic pressures to perform better than before. Another world tour. Time away from family and children adds to unsurmountable pressures which increase mental health risks leading to exhaustion, stress, depression and burnout.
Some I work with cannot cope with vile comments body shaming, negative feedback about the latest performance, and internet trolls .
We all know a mental health breakdown – or ‘breakthrough’ as Kanye himself likes to call it – can rear its ugly head at any time, in anyone, anywhere. As a society we’ve been told mental health does not discriminate a thousand times over.
On this Mental Health Awareness Week 2018, the Mental Health Foundation is asking how we’re all dealing with stress, whether they be stressors of everyday worries at home, or the stress of the world stage.
Watch this video about how to cope with stress:
Of course, it is much easier to afford help with your mental health if you’ve got a spare couple of million in the bank.
Indeed, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation commissioned a review into their Anti-Poverty Strategy in 2016, which found a link between poverty and mental health ailments.
Poverty increases the risk of mental health problems and can be both a causal factor and a consequence of mental ill health, the study discovered.
Dr Iris Elliott, the review author, wrote:
Mental health is shaped by the wide-ranging characteristics (including inequalities) of the social, economic and physical environments in which people live.
But that’s not to say the lows of depression aren’t just as low if you’ve got a wad of twenties under your pillow, in the same way the pain of a broken leg hurts just as much in the moment whether you have the privilege of being able to afford to fix it or not.
Yet, comparison is innate in human nature; an off-shoot of survival of the fittest, Dr Cassidy confirmed.
He outlined our complex ‘love/hate relationship with most celebrities’:
As humans we socially compare our lifestyles, body image, income levels, job opportunities – or lack of them – and so we become much more acutely aware of our limitations and health inequalities. Jealousy is a common feature.
And, as with most thing in life, it often comes down to money, Dr Cassidy said, explaining the ‘phenomenal salaries [celebrities] earn can’t be justified in the eyes of their fans’ , some of whom feel it is ‘amoral’ to give some much capital to one person.
However, he added:
Fan worship frequently cannot comprehend the mental health aspects of live performance nor can it understand the huge income levels are attributed to the value put by society on their talent and skills.
Still, Dr Cassidy said resentment and a lack of empathy comes from viewers who, for example, ‘feel deceived by their association and promotion of brand goods they never used’.
The mass media is also culpable, he concluded, documenting cases in which ‘high levels of continuous media exposure can cause anger aggression and depression… and a sense of unworthiness’ in some viewers.
So it’s understandable when people struggling to make ends meet – financially or emotionally – moan every time a singer cancels a tour for mental health reasons, or scoff at an actor who speaks out about a particularly traumatic performance.
But we must fight those instincts and accept mental health is all relative. While, on paper, someone may seem to have it better or worse than you, the experiences we all have as individuals are incomparable.
Just ask those who have gone through it themselves:
Contrary to what Good Charlotte preached in their noughties hit Lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous, it’s surely better teach empathy than jealousy – especially when it comes to invisible illness we can neither comprehend medically or see physically.
While the mechanisms of capitalism certainly aren’t helping those in underprivileged socio-economic environments battle their own demons, celebrities coming forward about their own troubles do undoubtedly raise awareness.
Our time and precious energies would be better spent imploring those in the public eye to keep speaking out, and writing to the members of the elite who control our NHS to make provisions for the woefully under-equipped mental health services.
The same excuses which cause some members of the public to discriminate against celebrities also perpetuate the bigotries which some people hold regarding mental health and gender, race, religion and class. For that reason, and many more, they need to cease.
We’ve talked, and we’ve progressed, but there’s still work to be done and now it’s time to act on putting these bigotries to bed once and for all.
If mental health doesn’t discriminate over wealth, neither should we.
Talking is often the first step to moving forward. While talking about mental health is vital, UNILAD are calling for action this Mental Health Awareness Week.
We are petitioning the government to improve mental health services offered on the NHS for young people, who sometimes have to wait ten years from the moment they experience their first symptoms to get adequate treatment.
We have written to Jeremy Hunt MP to tell him about our petition and demand the government take action. You can help by signing our petition, in partnership with WHOLE, here. To find out more about our campaign you can read our manifesto.
You can speak to someone confidentially about your mental health and wellbeing by calling one of the following numbers: Samaritans – 116 123 , Childline – 0800 1111 (UK) / 1800 66 66 66 (ROI), Teenline – 1800 833 634 (ROI).