Mental health and celebrity culture is a hard to think about subject. Especially if you are like me, someone living daily with the battles of mental illness. You know it’s always something that will connect with you, but you don’t pay much attention until you see the news headlines. This month, it came in the form of Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington committing suicide.
Immediately after the news broke online, the statuses and tweets started rolling out. Including mine.
Whether you want to admit it or not, Linkin Park has probably influenced you, your music taste, or the musicians you…
My take on these events tends to be a bit different than some others. Yes, I was saddened to hear the news. Just like I was to hear about Robin Williams. But this time was different. In Williams’ case, he didn’t show the world any outward signs that things were wrong. He had talked about it before in interviews, but not a lot. We didn’t know Robin Williams to make us sad. He made us extremely happy. And that was part of the devastation of the news.
In the case of Chester Bennington, he had given the world so much notice about what was going through his head. His lyrics said it all to us. Yet, it still came as a shock to us. Why did it do that? Why did we not see it before hand? How come nobody had really tried to reach him?
I don’t have the answers to these questions though I wish to God I did. But there’s other questions I want answers to concerning mental health and celebrity culture. Like, why is a celebrity considered brave for posting about their struggles and I’m told to “get over it” and “stop being selfish”? How come a celebrity gets an outpouring of support and I get only one message asking me if I’m okay? Why do we not ever think to reach out to celebrities like they are one of us and offer genuine support and not just “prayers” with a praying hands emoji?
This is particularly difficult when it comes to being male. Men are supposed to be the sociological idea of “masculine”. We’re not supposed to show our feelings on the outside and most definitely shouldn’t talk about it with our friends. This societal perception is killing men at a rapid pace, and it doesn’t seem like it ends with us “normies”.
Sometimes it is easier to see in celebrities. Chester Bennington put his thoughts out there in his lyrics. Why didn’t we take it more seriously? Robin Williams was on the opposite end of the spectrum. We had no clue from an outside perspective. And only his closest friends and family could know how much he felt comfortable reaching out.
So why is it that celebrity culture and mental illness are such confusing, crisscrossed subjects? There are three distinct occurrences that can be observed when taking these two subjects together. First, the god-like stature and hero status we give celebrities who come out with their issues. Second is the non-existent “agreements” we make to be there for friends and family. Lastly, is the non-existent real support for celebrities who don’t go through the battle as smoothly as others.
Celebrity Culture Gods
Let me say this. I get it. Celebrities are famous and have the possibility of reaching millions with their messages. So when a celebrity comes out publicly about their mental health, it makes a huge impact. However, I don’t always see this impact as great. In one post, people are talking about how brave these people are because they “are real”. In a different comment section they are telling others to get over themselves, that they are weak, and selfish. This is a good thing?
The people on the bad end of this two-way street are often still the headlines of other news articles. The ones dedicated to B section back pages that people see and go “Huh, I didn’t see that coming” before moving on. Those of us who speak publicly about our struggles often get chided and forgotten. Making us feel like we shout to the void. I don’t want to be someone’s hero, or be famous. I just want my voice to make a difference too.
Would you call 911 for someone you only know online to try to help save their life? Would you think to try to contact local family and friends, and local places where help can be found? Probably not. I’ve done this twice in the last year, and multiple times in my lifetime. When we post about what we promise people in the wake of celebrity news, most of us can’t say we’ve kept that promise.
Sharing the suicide hotline number in a status that says “Copy and paste, do not share” is one thing. Actually listening on messenger for hours, or calling the person, or even meeting them face to face is another. It’s a bullshit paradigm that says “We don’t care about somebody nobody else is talking about them” and routinely acting shocked at an outcome that we might have had the power to prevent. It’s a sickening outcome of celebrity culture and mental illness intersecting each other. And it REALLY pisses me off.
Leaving them Hanging
On the other hand, there are the celebrities who slide through this hero status, to be forgotten until the headlines. And we sit back and say “Where were the warning signs?” People write and say “Hey, your lyrics helped me” or “Your story touched me” which has to be encouraging. But who is writing them and saying “How are you doing? I mean, really how are you doing?” Could this help? Maybe, maybe not. It’s that way in any situation for anyone battling a pit of darkness.
Why do we not hear stories about multiple celebrities lifting each other up? Why don’t we see them actively trying with others instead of trying to have their story published more than the other? Do you see where I’m going with this? Celebrities and mental health equate to the same as the rest of us. Empty and broken promises, and a wall of shame and emptiness that make it hard to climb out.
There isn’t really a coherent point to this post. Well, maybe a couple. Mental illness is not a joke, not an excuse, and not selfish. It is a battle, a reason, and something that affects more than just one person. Celebrity or normie, we are ALL in this together. Nobody should have to fight alone. Nobody should be made to feel their illness is inferior to others. Keep your promises. REALLY listen to your friends. Be prepared to make tough calls and save a life.
It’s been past time to start taking mental illness seriously, to oust those who abuse the words, to encourage those who live that world, and to finally come to terms with the fact that we can all be okay in the end.