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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?

Originally published: April 20, 2017
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