Aided by Celebrity Candor, Mental Health Coming to Forefront

Star power and courage are helping to erode the stigma around mental health.

Posted Dec 05, 2018

The holiday season brings an opportunity to reflect on blessings from the past year before we flip the calendar and move on to the next. This year we saw more celebrities come forward to publicly reveal their private mental health struggles while openly discussing the challenges those issues pose to them and their loved ones. We should count this as a blessing and here’s why. 

The more society engages mental health issues as part of the popular discourse, the greater our chances of reducing the bias, misinformation and stigma that are too frequently associated with mental illness, and the likelier it will be that those with mental health issues and their families will step out of the shadows to seek treatment. In this regard, our celebrity-driven culture can actually be good thing.

Those facing mental health issues are often reassured to learn that high-profile individuals are just like everyone else in that psychological disorders, like most illnesses, do not discriminate. Whether it’s a psychiatric diagnosis, substance abuse or dependency, cognitive issue, brain injury or other illness, the signs and symptoms associated with brain diseases and trauma – the impact they have on individuals and their loved ones – are in fact the same.

What is different? High-profile individuals have the attention and visibility others may not. They can give voice to the voiceless, be out in the open as others cannot or will not, and help to normalize mental illness on the same plane as physical illness and disabilities have come to be recognized and respected.

Moving forward, we can be hopeful that continued dialogue and exposure will provide more than just a pathway to normalization. For instance, when someone is diagnosed with cancer or another physical disease, support systems abound. Unfortunately, this is often not the case when it comes to mental illnesses, where those diagnosed face a paucity of available resources due to chronic underfunding and a lack of prioritization.

By now it should be obvious that mental health issues demand not only greater attention, but a greater investment of resources that will stem the tide of discrimination, misinformation, and bias toward those who are afflicted. Treatment, housing, support services and, most critically, funding must become a priority for our country, as they are in others.

Likewise, we need to level the playing field, as it is typically only those with means who can connect with the costly, private supportive services that are too often the only treatment options. In a country as wealthy as the United States, there must be a push for public funding, payment for treatment and an understanding that early intervention and a less restrictive alternative is actually much less costly over the long run. It’s always the case that the more proactive and preventive we can be, the greater the chance for a positive outcome. 

Finally, families of those with mental health issues need to know that they too have options available to them – professionals who can help them make the tough choice to confront loved ones facing difficult circumstances and even intervene when necessary.

This may be a long wish list. But we have made strides this year. Let’s encourage these to continue.