Celebrity Rating Of Stigma

What makes me any different from Stephen Fry?  Or any other celebrity who speaks out about living with mental illness?  So I’m not a celebrity, but after that, we’re all the same.

There has been a lot in various forms of media this week about Stephen Fry coming out about his suicide attempt in 2012. Describing himself as a victim of his moods, he said that he views his role as head of the charity, Mindis not to be shy and forthcoming about the morbidity and genuine nature of the likelihood of death amongst people certain mood disorders“.

I think it is great when anyone is ‘not shy and forthcoming’ about mental illness and suicide, but a celebrity adds the advantage of perhaps a wider audience than the rest of us. It got me thinking though…

Do we think it’s easier for Stephen Fry, or any other celebrity, to talk openly about their mental illness?  I ask, because sometimes I think that we rely too much on celebrities for this, saying “it’s easier for them”.  Somehow their money, and their status means they apparently have less to lose in being open.  I’m not so sure.

Stephen Fry has friends who might judge him, just like me.  He has family who might criticise him, just like me.  He even has a job he could jeopardize.  I don’t have that right now, but I have in the past.  He also has an audience through his employment.  They could judge him too.

It’s interesting because earlier this week I read an article that suggested that celebrities exposing their mental illnesses actually make the stigma  of mental illness worse.  Apparently celebrities give a warped impression of what mental illness is really like.  They don’t have the same fears as the rest of us about the repercussions of coming out.  Oh, and they’re “less seriously ill” than the rest of us.

It seems to me that celebrities can’t win either way.  If they speak out about their mental illness, they’re somehow judged as not having a clue what ‘real life with mental illness’ is like.  Somehow we think they have it easy.  We can think they have less to lose by coming out.  On the other hand, we rely on them to speak out, even when we’re too afraid to do it ourselves.

I don’t think celebrities have it easy with mental illness.  Anyone with a mental illness will go through hell, regardless of their social status.  Maybe Stephen Fry’s own version of  ‘hell’ is different from mine, but if I choose to judge his ‘hell’ as not being ‘good enough’ then I am no better than the people who judge me… or you.

Personally I believe that the more celebrities who come out about living with mental illness, the better.  But only in that they reach a much greater audience than perhaps you or I might reach.  What is really needed is for people from all walks of life to be speaking out about mental illness.  After all mental illness doesn’t discriminate in who it affects.  It affects  all types of people.

I think the lesson we need to take from Stephen Fry’s decision to share with the media is that we should share too.  No, I’m not saying you or I ring up the local newspaper or television station but simply sharing with one other person, maybe a friend or family member, contributes to destroying the stigma that all of us bear.  It doesn’t have to be a big thing.  Simply telling one person we trust makes a difference.

“But just as we can all agree on what is red, even if we will never know if we each see it in the same way, so we can all agree – can’t we? – that no matter how confident we may appear to others, inside we are all sobbing, scared and uncertain for much of the time. Or perhaps it’s just me.

Oh God, perhaps it really is just me.

Actually it doesn’t really matter, when you come to think of it. If it is just me, then you are reading the story of some weird freak. You are free to treat this book like science fiction, fantasy or exotic travel literature. Are there really men like Stephen Fry on this planet? Goodness, how alien some people are. And if I am not alone, then neither are you, and hand in hand we can marvel together at the strangeness of the human condition.” 

― Stephen Fry, The Fry Chronicles

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6 thoughts on “Celebrity Rating Of Stigma

  1. Years ago, back in the early days of the internet, I once had an email conversation with Stephen. This was waaaay back almost pre-web internet days, long before social media existed. He had pulled out of a play in London and fled to Belgium after a bad bipolar episode. There were few people on the net then as it was so expensive with all connections handled through dial-up modems. I emailed him with supportive comments as at the time he was getting a raw deal in the UK press about “running away from his responsibilities”, which I thought was very unfair. To my surprise, he replied, and we struck up a conversation. He’s one of life’s genuinely caring people.

  2. Great post, and I agree that celebrities, and everyone else, should speak out more. I also think that people who are not educated about mental illness still believe a lot of old stereotypes (for example, mentally ill people are homeless, or “out of touch” with reality) and it does a lot of good for them to see a celebrity that they like and admire admit to having a mental illness.

  3. Cate… I loved this post, it certainly gave me food for thought in an area of life that I am a bit hung up on. I’m afraid my comment went off on a bit of a tangent and perhaps looks too much on the other side of the coin, so I decided to post it on my own blog.

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