Mental health access in the 2000s– not only are there more films addressing mental health issues (i.e.: Silver Linings Playbook, The King of Staten Island, Shutter Island, Black Swan) but celebrities are also talking more openly about their difficulties with mental illness. Below are some examples of popular celeb disclosures, followed by some key insights about how mental health exposure amongst celebrities effects mainstream culture:
- Harry Styles suffers with anxiety, particularly stage fright. What an amazing example of someone making something look easy, yet it being incredibly challenging for them. Harry must have learned many anxiety diffusing tools he keeps in the back pocket of his sparkly pants!
- Jonah Hill is incredibly vocal about his struggles with depression, anxiety, and body dysmorphia. If you’ve not watched his film interview with his psychotherapist, Stutz, I appreciate the candor of their dialogue. Jonah’s relationship with his clinician is also notable because of their use of humor, which I also find extraordinarily beneficial for my therapeutic alliance with many clients I work with.
- Taraji P. Henson is an advocate for psychotherapy, noting the benefits of opening up to an unbiased party. Taraji’s openness about depression is particularly noteworthy, as although many people of color struggle with mental health, treatment is less available to marginalized communities.
- Lady Gaga remarked during a talk at the Yale Centre for Emotional Intelligence: “I invented myself, Lady Gaga– I curated my life to be an expression of my pain. This is how I overcame my depression, by creating someone that I felt was stronger than me. But nothing was able to fix how I was genetically made. Gaga’s personal experience led to her collaboration with her mother in the Born this Way foundation, which supports eliminating stigma around mental health, particularly focusing on young people.
- Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, may look superhuman, but has been candid about his struggles with depression. Seeing men like Johnson, who are typically cast in traditional macho roles, open up vulnerably about their mental health struggles is profound.
On a macro level, celebrity exposure helps destigmatize mental illness. If larger than life humans like The Rock can struggle with depression, a young man in rural Arkansas might be more likely to open up to a trained clinician. Of equal importance, his peers who may not suffer with depression might be more apt to understanding, inclusion, and compassion. While familiarity with celebrities can be dangerous, as treatments of mental illness should be tailored to each individual, the exposure outweighs the harm. On this note, like Taraji, I think it’s essential that celebrities share more about their treatment, versus their diagnosis alone.
While media stories with headlines like “Lady Gaga reveals how depression influenced her new album” are captivating, research shows that this type of sensationalized exposure remains surface level and can fuel gossip. Researchers explain that awareness must be enhanced by helping mass society understand the causes and treatment of a mental health condition, best accomplished through the use of trusted sources and platforms.
One less than favorable effect of celebrity access to mental health advocacy is relevant when it comes to microcelebrities (think TikTok influencers). While there are a handful of trained clinicians who have massive followings on social media who I consider remarkable and wise, average folks, not so much. While I’m not on TikTok, I’ve seen many disturbing Instagram reels that have over 20k ‘likes,’ while proclaiming treatments for mental health issues that have no basis in sound clinical treatment. Even worse, perhaps, I’ve encountered so many individuals who are over diagnosing themselves. While diagnosis are sometimes essential for prescribing treatment, I’ve built my practice on building someone’s strengths and the idea that you are more than your mental illness. The harmful impact of 10 second videos in which microcelebs cast wide nets across major diagnosis’ like Borderline Personality Disorder is alarming.
Overall, there are many more benefits to celebrities opening up about their mental health struggles versus disadvantages. While someone’s personal experience with mental illness need not be justified by evidence based treatment, I do consider celebrities to have more of a responsibility to discuss professional remedies than the rest of us. Through use of their platforms for exposure and resources, there’s so much they can do for their communities at large, as well as, of course, prioritizing their own journey towards wellness.