By Kayt Sukel
Any mental health clinician can tell you that mental illness has the power to transcend age, gender, race, and socio-economic status. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately one in five individuals experience mental illness in a given year. And many of those individuals won’t seek the help they need due to fear of rejection or discrimination. After all, there are quite a few negative stereotypes about what it means to have a mental illness. The kind of stereotypes that can get in the way of people speaking up about their conditions.
And yet, over the past few months, several celebrities have talked openly about their personal experience with mental illness. Earlier this year, actresses Hayden Panettiere and Drew Barrymore both opened up about their experiences with post- partum depression. Comedian Sarah Silverman talked about the role depression has played in her life, personally and professionally. Former Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy has not only talked about his problems with addiction and bipolar disorder, he has co-founded an organization, One Mind, to further our understanding of the brain’s role in such diseases.
And these brave individuals are not alone. Other celebrities like Jared Padalecki, Demi Lovato, Stephen Fry, Lena Dunham and Olivia Munn have also come forward—showing that mental health disorders also have the power to transcend celebrity status.
Why does this matter? Because, according to NAMI, sharing such stories can help diminish the powerful and long-standing stigmas associated with depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders, eating disorders and other mental illnesses. It appears the best way to combat the stigma of mental illness may be to openly talk about them.
In fact, Sam P.K. Collins reported in a recent Think Progress article that talking helps quite a bit. He wrote, “Research shows that when one talks about their depression, they develop coping skills that help them mitigate future stress-inducing situations. These conversations also allow the depressed person to gain perspective on problems with family, friends, and co-workers. Once they reach that threshold, they can then talk to others about their problems, further encouraging others to confront issues of their own.”
And when someone with a large fan base starts such a conversation, it can have some serious reach. NAMI says that when celebrities come forward with their own struggles with mental illness it can help destigmatize it, breaking down “barriers of ignorance, prejudice, or unfair discrimination.” It can show that being famous, or seemingly “having it all,” isn’t enough to overcome such problems. And it can also, as Collins put forward in his article, encourage everyday Joes and Janes, who may be fans of these celebrities, to finally seek the treatment they so sorely need.
And that’s important because many individuals suffering from treatable mental illness don’t speak up or seek help when they need it the most. So if a few more celebrities want to open up and “pierce the veil” when it comes to mental health, helping to destigmatize disorders, challenge those negative stereotypes and bring hope to those who may be suffering, we are more than happy to listen.