Lately, a lot of celebrities have been opening up about mental illness. From Selena Gomez speaking out about seeking treatment, to Prince Harry revealing his struggle with panic attacks, the topic is becoming less taboo. Though at one point mental illness had the ability to damage the public's perception of a celebrity, and in turn potentially ruin their career, it has developed into a more common subject that's shared, discussed, and even applauded for its honesty. In many ways, this newfound transparency is a very positive development in our approach to psychological conditions, as I believe it's intended to be. Yet, along with making strides toward erasing a stigma and opening the floor to others sharing their experiences, the truth is talking about mental health has also become trendy.
Trends, as we know, have a way of exhausting a topic and even cheapening it. I am not taking away from the admirable openness and vulnerability of these celebrities, but rather pointing out the importance of discussing these topics authentically and in a way that actually generates lasting social change. The recent increase in dialogue around mental illness has the potential to accomplish great things as long as we're able to extract the correct message from it — especially after the trend inevitably goes away.
Celebrities opening up about their mental health struggles has undoubtedly helped chip away at the stigma associated with mental conditions. Take Britney Spears as an example. Back in 2007 when she had her highly publicized "breakdown" we didn't know how to react to it. She was scrutinized, called crazy, and made fun of. When you look at how we react to current cases of mental illness in Hollywood, you can truly see how far we've come.
As a whole, the topic is less taboo, less shameful, and more widely accepted and recognized as a real thing affecting people's lives, regardless of their social standing. In an article on Psychology Today, one doctor writes, "High profile people who disclose their experiences with mental illness bring a positive light to health and wellness. Research supports this, with data showing how positive stories result in more people seeking help as a result of a celebrity's disclosure. Stigma research has shown that the telling of positive stories about living with mental illness significantly reduces the myths of mental illness. When the public learns about a person who lives with a clinical disorder, manages it well and experiences a rewarding life, stigma is reduced."
These celebrities are sending the message that it's okay to live with these things, and that you are not alone. And even more valuable are the celebrities who are able to properly manage their psychological health and go on to live successful and healthy lives, giving hope to those who may believe they're prisoners of their disorders.
While we have improved in our perception of mental illness, when it comes the public's actual knowledge and education, we fall short. When something becomes trendy, the details and true bits of information begin to slip through the cracks. We're in an age of catchy headlines and summarized blurbs, our attention spans hardly able to hold on for something longer than a Tweet. When you're scrolling through Instagram or Twitter you may learn that so and so has borderline personality disorder, but you aren't educated on what that actually means. Disorders like depression, anxiety, and bipolar have been cheapened to buzzwords, haphazardly thrown around with only a superficial understanding. It's become common to hear disorders falsely attributed in everyday conversation, with the example of many people using the word bipolar to describe everything from a person who is moody to inconsistent weather.
This is something that gets notably trickier with the involvement of celebrities. In an article on Vox, one writer comments, "But so long as celebrities’ personal lives are considered newsworthy, it’s a challenge we’ll have to deal with. So how do we in the general public and in the media talk about the mental health of celebrities in a way that’s respectful and thoughtful, and, above all, doesn’t actively harm both celebrities and everyday people dealing with mental illness?"
These are true medical issues, and it's important that we understand both what they are and what they are not so we're able to educate others and in turn provide help for those who need it.
So, what do we do now? Despite the natural drawbacks that result from something being trendy, I still believe this current movement is both positive and productive. Celebrities are using their audience to do their part in addressing mental health, and now we must do our part too. It is up to us to bring the message home, to educate those in our communities, and be brave enough to open up to family and friends who have the ability to actually help. In fact, research shows that this more concentrated method is effective in erasing the stigma. One strategy, coined "TLC3" (which stands for: targeted, local, continuous, credible, contact) by Patrick W. Corrigan, Patrick J. Michaels, and Blythe Buchholz, argues the five principles listed above will decrease public stigma in the long-term, thus helping those with mental illness. Corrigan even developed a toolkit to help open dialogue and develop common language for all people, regardless of their profession or level of psychology knowledge.
Talking about something on a large scale is fine, but taking it to those you encounter on a day-to-day level is even better. I urge anyone who is struggling to reach out to those closest to you, and to, of course, not be ashamed to seek further help. Celebrities are paving the way for change, but we are the ones responsible for implementing it. I hope we continue to make progress in our understanding of mental health long after it's out of the spotlight.