Celebrities with mental illness seem to be a hot topic for discussion in the media these days. From Brittany Spears to Lindsay Lohan, there’s no shortage of celebrities with questionable mental health in the news. Aside from the gossip entertainment value and highly publicized mental meltdowns, there’s an underlying benefit – increased awareness.
Fifty years ago, cancer was a hush-hush condition. It wasn’t mentioned in polite circles. However, thanks in part to celebrities who spoke out about their battles with the disease, it’s no longer a taboo topic. It’s no longer subject to a negative public stigma. Perhaps the same can be said for mental illness in years to come. Especially, given the number of mainstream, less dramatically inclined celebrities opening up about their struggles and experiences with mental illness, there is hope for less drama and more awareness.
Popular and respected athletes, actors, singers, and other public personalities who seem to lead otherwise normal lives have come forward. They have told their stories and publicly admitted to their diagnoses and personal battles.
Talk show host Rosie O’Donnell, the beautiful and talented Halle Berry, actor Sir Anthony Hopkins, and musician Trent Reznor each have discussed their battles with depression. For some, such as Halle Berry, their battles with depression were situational, centered around family or life situations. For others, such as Trent Reznor, their battles with depression have been a life-long struggle. Rosie O'Donnell and Sir Anthony Hopkins have reportedly had on and off issues with their depression.
Action star Jean-Claude Van Damme, comedian Ben Stiller, rapper DMX, comedian/actress Tracy Ullman, and actress Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia, of Star Wars fame) all suffer from Bipolar Disorder. In the case of Carrie Fisher, her admission came after several very public instances where she was reportedly found in less than star quality condition. Likewise, Jean-Claude Van Damme has had his fair share of widely-reported public displays of odd or abusive behavior before going public. However, stars such as Ben Stiller, DMX and Tracy Ullman could have gone their entire careers with no indication of their private problems. They, like many other celebrities, seem to be living a normal, happy life – at least normal for a celebrity.
Princess Diana suffered from bulimia and possibly Borderline Personality Disorder. In several (and often disputed) tell-all books, insiders gave numerous examples of behaviors indicating the possibility of BPD. Diana herself admitted in television interviews to struggling with bulimia and the personal issues her eating disorder caused. Whether or not she was actually diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, however, remains unknown.
Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), in addition to depression, as also dealt with Social Anxiety Disorder. Social Anxiety Disorder can lead sufferers to fear leaving their homes or otherwise leading normal lives that include social interaction with people outside their families. Depression is a common co-morbid disorder that often strikes those suffering the affects of Social Anxiety Disorder. Given Reznor's occupation as a musician who often tours and gives concerts to hundreds, social anxiety would seem truly counterproductive to his career.
Perhaps hearing of these celebrities’ mental illness struggles and triumphs, sans the drama-inducing gossip rag fodder, will change the face of mental health issues. Perhaps less spotlighted victims of these disorders will see their conditions as treatable and manageable. Public awareness has greatly helped research and treatment for other conditions such as cancer and AIDs, so it is reasonable to hope that the same change will happen for mental illness. While the spotlight of celebrities spiraling out of control may sell gossip magazines and increase traffic to celebrity’s news sites, it can hopefully also increase research and public awareness.