collage of celebrities. From left to right: Lady Gaga, Kylie Jenner, Prince Harry

How People With Mental Illness Really Feel About Celebrities 'Opening Up' About Mental Health

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It feels like nowadays whenever a celebrity says the word “anxiety,” the internet gets bombarded with a new round of complimentary headlines, praising them for being brave and talking about their mental health. (We do it, too.)

Just this week: Prince William and Lada Gaga Facetimed about mental health stigma, Lili Reinhart from “Riverdale” said she “has the best outlook on mental health” and Kendall Jenner talked anxiety in her Harper’s Bazaar cover story. She also said in a video promoting the issue she “thought she was going to kill herself” after her first heartbreak.

But with all this saturated mental health news, which despite the context are all given similar enthusiastic headlines, the meaning of words like “anxiety” and “mental health” can get convoluted and watered down, and (when I’m feeling cynical) makes talking about mental illness seem like “the next hot thing,” thrown in between news of “who wore what best” and “which celebrity is dating who.” Rarely do these “tell all” interviews get into the nitty gritty. More often, we put sound bites and a single quote on a pedestal, not really thinking about the deeper narrative of their experience and what it means for the rest of us.

This isn’t to undermine the mental health of celebrities — as we know in this community, you can never judge what someone is going through based on their status, appearance or occupation. It’s just that coverage of celebrities speaking out about mental illness, although popular, often only scratches the surface.

At the same time, celebrity culture is a powerful tool for setting standards and normalizing experiences. So when a celebrity decides to get vulnerable about their mental health, whatever their intentions, it does in some way give others permission to do the same. It at least lets others know they’re not alone, which is never a bad thing.

To find out what people who live with mental illness think when celebrities open up about their mental health, we decided to ask our mental health community. We’d love to know what you think — join our conversation in the comments below:

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “I feel conflicted. On one hand, I feel empowered that mental health is being discussed on a larger stage. On the other, it’s not often broken down and only discussed on a surface level. In addition, there’s some issues of romanticizing mental illness, especially anxiety and depression. Overall, it depends on a lot of factors. I do love everything Carrie Fisher (RIP) has done for the mental illness community, and I hope more celebrities try to channel her energy in the future.” — “Emily D.

2. “It annoys me, as I think well, why is their mental health taken with overwhelming sympathy and empathy, and mine is taken with a view that I’m just lazy or a benefit scrounger? It doesn’t change people’s perception of mental illness, it just enhances a more endearing approach to the given celebrity. Just my opinion.” — Ian S.

3. “I’m glad it gives it a stage to appear on where people generally listen, however, it’s also really upsetting that it takes a celebrity to open up about their mental illness for the world to take notice and care that people who [struggle with] these types of things.” –Maddy F.

4. “Encouraged and empowered. The more famous people open up about the importance of mental health, the more everyday people feel comfortable opening up about their own struggles. The more awareness, the better.” — Sarah A.

5. “I am always suspicious. I know they may say the truth, but the fact that almost every celebrity starts talking about having mental health problems at some point, it makes me question whether it’s not some kind of trend nowadays and a way to get more attention.” — Hana K.

6. “Sometimes it seems inauthentic and disingenuous, especially when they talk about their recovery.” — Bethany D.

7. “The same as when some random non-famous person opens up. They’re people, just like every one else.” — Dillion M.

8. “I think a lot of the time it’s done to keep them in the limelight. It doesn’t make the lives of those of us who live with mental illness any better. We could all go public and say I have this mental illness and the rest of the world would say ‘so what, who are you anyway?’ So why are they told ‘well done’?” — Wendy W.

9. “I’m grateful that a person whom many admire and listen to isn’t afraid to give mental illness a face and help the rest of us who live with and fight the stigma on a daily basis. Sometimes people put celebrities on pedestals, this helps remind everyone that they’re human too and that mental illness can affect anyone anywhere.” — Melodie K.

10. “It gives me courage and hope to know that I’m not alone. To see how they handle it means a lot.” — Brandon C.

11. “I’m thankful because the more people talk about it, the less stigma there will be. It’s nice to show the world that you can have everything that you could possibly want and need in the world and still have your brain be against you. Mental illness does not discriminate! Just because you’re in a different tax bracket doesn’t mean you can’t have a mental illness.” — Jamie H.

12. “I appreciate that they’re trying to help end the stigma around mental illness. I feel a lot of empathy for William and Harry as my own mother died shortly after theirs so I have lived through pain like theirs ‘alongside’ them. It seems to me they are saying that no one is immune to mental health despite wealth and opportunity. That said, when services are being cut and children have to live away from support networks such as family so that they can receive treatment and others have to wait so long for treatment; that is were they cannot empathize. I am sure they had access to the best treatment without having to go on a waiting list.” — Tara M.

13. “It’s great knowing that people we look up to, admire, etc. also facing the same challenges. Just because you’re in the spotlight or famous doesn’t mean you can’t/don’t struggle. It’s inspiring, it gives you courage to also be open about your mental illness.” — Mary K.

14. “It humanizes them and reminds me that despite their fame, they are still people with their own individual experiences and stories to tell. We tend to forget the roles celebrities play on screen are the fake part. There was a time when no one knew their names either, and they were no different than the rest of us.” — Katie H.

15. “Sometimes, it makes me wonder if they’re actually being genuine about it or not. Sometimes I often feel like celebrities use this as a fad to build themselves up after some kind of scandal. Having a mental illness isn’t trendy, so those celebrities who use it as a crutch are doing more harm than good.” — Mandy R.

16. “I feel hopeful — even if their story doesn’t apply to me, they are helping someone, somewhere. It normalizes the conversation which minimizes the stigma. Just because they have money and a platform where they can speak out doesn’t mean they struggle any less. It’s not a competition. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate based on race, gender, sexuality or class. We need to stop criticizing and start supporting.” — Allisyn M.

17. “I feel empathy and compassion for them because, at the end of the day, they’re only human and even though they’re in the public eye, it’s important to remember that they go through the same thoughts, feelings and emotions that anyone else does. But, at the same time, I think it shouldn’t take a celebrity talking about mental illness for people to take it seriously. I’d much rather hear someone’s story who isn’t in the public eye.” — Katie S.

18. “I think it’s great, celebrities have spent a large amount of their time gaining the trust and compassion of their fans so it’s a great way for our voices as a whole to be heard. I understand how some people may feel as if the general population cares more for celebrities than everyone else, but the fact of the matter is they don’t know us as well as they know these celebrities, we are strangers to them as is anyone else mental illness or not, we have given them no reason to trust us and follow us. I think celebrities opening up about their mental health is necessary for us to move forward as a whole.” — Stephanie F.

19. “I’m extremely conflicted. Part of me is happy that it’s talked about but another part of me is upset that the only way people seem to really listen to how it impacts people’s everyday lives is when celebrities talk about it. It should be listened to no matter who talks about it in my opinion.” — Erika S.

20. “It depends on who and what their intentions seem to be. One positive example that encourages me is Wentworth Miller. He speaks with honesty and transparency that brings both awareness and vulnerability. He also explains how hard even just speaking about it can be and how much work it took to get to that point. He discusses the pain and the struggles that come with his mental illnesses and how much if a struggle it was and is. He offers resources and encourages seeking out help. His motives always appear to be for helping others and offering hope… I appreciate the celebrities who speak and speak to offer hope on mental illness.” — Hannah S.

21. “It depends. Sometimes I feel like they’re just doing it because it’s ‘fashionable’ and I feel annoyed and hurt by that. Sometimes they’re trying to help the cause, but a non-celeb could help just as well.” — Jess L.

22. “Celebrities have resources ‘normal’ people couldn’t even imagine. So when celebrities come out with a mental health condition and talk about diet and exercise helping or going to a glamorous recovery center or vacation, stepping out of the lime light… that’s all well and fine, but the rest of us may not be able to afford such luxuries. A lot of us are low income trying to afford our meds and feed our families, so taking an extended vacation or focusing on ourselves might not be an option. I sort of hate how it draws attention to the issue, both glamorizing it and making it seem like a short break with make it manageable or fix it.” — Gretchen M.

23. “Sometimes I feel like it ends up getting romanticized by fame. It’s mentioned but never deconstructed. They just disappear then pretend to be better. Mental health isn’t fixed overnight.” — Sam C.

What do you think?

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5 Ways to Turn Sympathetic Statements Into Empathetic Ones

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“Sympathy” and “empathy” are two words so often used interchangeably that it’s rare to find two people who agree on exactly what the difference is.

The way I see it, sympathy is “feeling for,” and empathy is “feeling with.” Put another way, sympathy is telling someone you care, while empathy is showing it. At Crisis Text Line, we like to think we’re in the empathy business, and value empathy as a skill — it’s the key tenet of our Crisis Counselor training, which prepares our volunteers to work with people in crisis via text message.

We recognize everyone’s experience is different. It’s impossible for any one person to know exactly what another is feeling, because they’ll never be in precisely the same set of circumstances.

That’s why we don’t think of empathy in terms of sharing a person’s experience, we think of it as actively listening and genuinely trying to understand that experience to reflect back what it might feel like.

There are many ways you might be practicing sympathy in your life that can easily be turned into more meaningful and powerful acts of empathy.

1. Hold back on the advice.

The instinct to give advice is totally natural, but that’s often not what people are looking for. Bits of (sometimes terrible) advice are a dime-a-dozen, but thoughtful listening is rare. Instead of offering a friend unsolicited advice, try asking what they think they should do.

Example: “You know yourself best. What do you think would be most helpful to you right now?”

2. Avoid showing pity.

There are few things that make a person feel smaller than the sense that they’re being pitied. Replace expressions of pity (anything along the lines of “You poor thing”) with identifications of the person’s strengths.

Example: “You’re showing so much self-awareness in this situation. It’s really admirable. Thanks for being brave enough to come to me with this.”

3. Don’t assume you know the whole story.

When someone is telling you about their experience, it’s easy to believe you know exactly how they feel. Again, it’s impossible to know exactly how someone is feeling. Replace “I know you feel…” with more tentative statements like, “It sounds like you’re feeling…”

Example: “It seems like all this has left you feeling embarrassed, is that right?”

4. Validate difficult emotions.

Expressing painful emotions is never easy, and can leave someone feeling vulnerable. You can help mitigate the fear around it by validating the way someone is feeling, and letting them know it’s OK to not be OK.

Example: “It makes perfect sense that you’re feeling frustrated right now.”

5. Ask questions.

When someone’s struggling, showing a real interest in what they’re saying goes a long way. Don’t be afraid to come right out and ask questions that allow them to further explain how they’re feeling. The caveat is to avoid “curiosity questions,” or questions that seek details, but don’t do anything but feed into your own desire to know more. Another type of question to avoid is the “why” question, which can sound judgmental, even when it’s not meant to be. Try rewording “why” questions into “how” questions to make them more effective.

Example: “How were you feeling when this first happened?”

Turning your sympathy into empathy takes practice, but if you keep these five strategies in mind, you’ll be well on your way to being a more empathetic friend, partner, coworker and family member. Think you might be good at this? Consider becoming a Counselor — apply here!

In a crisis? Text HELLO to 741741 for free, 24/7 support in the US with a trained Crisis Counselor.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Liderina.

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A Letter of Support to Anyone Who Has Felt Worthless

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Hey you, yes you. You are special. You are important. You matter.

This is to every man, woman and child who has ever dealt with mental illness, chronic illness or any trial in your life that left you feeling worthless and like you didn’t matter. I know mental illness, so that’s what I normally choose to write about, but this can go for all of you.

You matter. Any voice in your head that tells you different is bull. You are not your mental illness.

I know it seems like your life is made up of symptoms and doctor appointments and daily fights with your own mind. That’s not all you are.

You are the people you love and those who love you.

You are the quiet rise and fall of your chest as you sleep.

You are the slight smile on your lips that you can’t catch.

You are a part of everything you touch.

You impact the world every day of your life.

You are so much more than your mental illness.

You matter. Don’t ever forget that.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Unsplash photo via freestocks.org

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Why Living Without a Protective Bubble Can Be Both Good and Bad

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My mental illness is like being stuck in a bottomless pit, but because there is so much more complexity to it, my metaphor has evolved over the years.

I had always counted on the bottomless pit metaphor; it does fit fairly well, after all. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression all feel as if I am stuck in a bottomless pit, desperately clinging to the side, hoping I can hang on — hoping someone can hear my screams. There are times I am able to climb my way to the top, and even make it out entirely. However, I can never get very far away from the pit; it’s always there, as is the ever-present fear I will fall back in at any moment. There are times in which I am so tired of holding on I consider just letting go, giving up and letting the pit take me. The bottom is most likely death.

I’ve managed my life with mental illness quite well, especially given the fact I have ended up with new diagnoses added on over the years: addiction, self-harm and an eating disorder. As you can imagine, this is a lot for one person to handle. I still keep the bottomless pit metaphor but as my illnesses have added up, so has my need to find a more fitting way to clearly describe how it feels to live with multiple mental illnesses.

When explaining my mental illnesses, I compare my life to living in a world in which everyone else has a protective bubble surrounding them, shielding them from all of the sadness, fear, and hopelessness in the world. They go about their daily lives without seeing, hearing or feeling any of these things. For me, however, I do not have this protective bubble. Everything gets in and hits me hard, penetrating my heart and soul. I cry at things most people wouldn’t even bat an eye at. My heart literally aches from the suffering I see and feel every day. As you can imagine, this only increases my mental health issues, causing extreme anxiety and depression. PTSD triggers are around every corner, making it more challenging to stay away from my unhealthy coping mechanisms (drugs, food restriction and self-injury). It’s a constant, daily battle.

However, I see a silver lining in missing my protective bubble, as it also allows me the opportunity to see the beauty that surrounds me. I think those who have that protective bubble may be missing out on the things I am able to see, hear and feel that make my life worth living. The smell of rain, the touch of the bark on a tree, the intricacy of moss, the vibrant colors of nature, the calming touch of my dogs, the sun shining in just the right way to amplify the light spreading across a deep blue sky. I am extremely sensitive to all of the bad and all of the good.

I can’t deny there are dangers in living near a bottomless pit without any kind of protection. It’s scary and unpredictable and I must stay mindful of how I manage my health every day. I also can’t deny there are benefits. I know that pit is always there, so I take extra care of myself to be sure I don’t get too close. Taking care of myself in healthy ways increases my ability to protect myself. My lack of a protective bubble allows me the opportunity to experience beauty despite the sadness and fear, and that is something I am immensely grateful for.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Unsplash photo via Aaron Burden

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How It Feels to Be Lost in the Cave of Mental Illness

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

I’m sad again today. My mind convinced me I should be.

My mind convinces me of many things. For instance, when it says, “You are not loved, you are not enough.”

My mind is a terrible cave, consumed by darkness and destruction. I want to crawl out from the cave, but it keeps pulling me back — back to my bed, where my body hurts just as much as my head.

“Out of everyone’s way,” my mind says. “They don’t need you,” it shouts. When my mind starts yelling, I shout and I curse. I don’t mean to, I really don’t. I really want to stop shouting and cursing, but my mind becomes so loud I need to let it out. I want to be in charge of my own happiness because that’s what mom suggests, but my mind says: “How can you be in charge of happiness when you can’t even be in charge of your life?”

I think my mind is right. It convinced me. Now I barely want to get out of bed. I don’t want to go out. My mind has convinced me of so many things that could happen if I do. My mind doesn’t want me to leave the cave. My mind says, if I do, it will be lonely and I can’t do that. My mind is my friend. It has convinced me. Who am I without my mind?

Now I make up excuses surrounding why I can’t go out, because even if I do I’ll have to convince everyone I’m having fun when I’m not. I’m good at faking. My mind says I can’t make friends because no one likes me. I believe it’s true, even my family treats me like an outcast.

My mind’s favorite thing is insomnia. It never shuts down. “End your life by suicide,” it says. “The world doesn’t need you.” I tell it to shut up, I beg it to stop, but it never does. It never stops. It hurts — it’s like thousands of knives are being stabbed in my heart. The more I die, the more I’m being resuscitated, and I’m back to reliving it over and over every day.

“Leave me alone,” I shout. “I want to stop hurting. Why doesn’t it go away?” My mind says it will only go away once I go away. Now I am numb.

But mind, you are not the boss of me. I choose to live!

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via klikk.

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When I Can't Seem to Open Up to My Counselor

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Your lungs are screaming and working tirelessly, desperately searching to find the accurate words, but you can’t. Your brain has its little party while your anxiety controls you within and says no. That’s the pain, the fear, anguish we can’t let out.

More and more people are opening up about their struggles, and believe me that’s good, but it’s the speaking that’s the real issue for me.

You try to remain calm, but that small room swallows you in your fear as you walk through the door. This is where it begins. This brings me to the surroundings. Every session you’re filled with the many issues that revolve in this never-ending world. They somewhat still linger through the air and make you  feel claustrophobic. This is where the struggle begins. You begin to shake, tremble, stutter with exhaustion as you’re grasping to pull your pain together. You stumble across your words.

You do all of this in the desperation and hope of being noticed, heard.

It seems like your pain inside you should be so easy to release and communicate about, but it’s been the same person, the same room for eight anguishing months, and you’ve still had to hide in your shell anonymously because talking is merely impossible. There is that vicious pounding in my brain, taunting me and beating me up as to why I can’t do the simplest things like talking to my counselor.

There may be a reason as to why we are like this, and there is no easy road to mental illnesses and recovery. The silence does not mean we don’t have anything going on; it’s just the frog in your throat waiting to jump out, but it can’t.

And that’s OK.

This is where it begins.

There is no easy road nor is there a “right way” to recovery, but once you find your support, believe me, you can see the light at the end of the road.

What I have learned over these past eight months is even by the end of the sessions you may feel exhausted, but every step of the way to recovery is worth it.
The first steps are terrifying, but you may be glad you were strong enough to go.

You may still struggle to communicate and that’s OK because the person you talk to will try to engage and understand you more as a person.

I believe recovery is a long process, but to whoever is reading this, there is someone who will listen, empathize and understand you. They’ll take your problems and listen, and all that anxiety you’ve gone through just to enter the room can, session by session, start to disappear.

There is hope out here, and there is love.

Everything can be OK.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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