All people who struggle with mental health are faced with a decision: they can either choose to keep their struggles a secret, or they can share them with the public. Celebrities battling mental health issues are in a particularly unique situation in that if they choose to share their struggles with the public, it means that the whole nation (and possibly even the whole world) will know of their mental illness.
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As a dedicated online therapist, I have made it my life’s work to end the stigma surrounding mental illness. Today, I’m furthering that mission by exploring two recent celebrity deaths with ties to mental illness.
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I work with people struggling with challenging mental illnesses every day in my career as an online mental health counselor, but it still breaks my heart every time I hear of someone who reaches such a breaking point that drives them to commit suicide. Whether it’s committed by a famous actor or a homeless person, suicide is always devastating. When the suicide victim is famous, however, they tend to receive a great deal of publicity as the whole country mourns the death. Robin Williams is one such example.
Robin Williams committed suicide in his California home on August 11, 2014. As an extremely popular and much-loved actor and comedian, news of his suicide shocked the nation. Williams always seemed so happy-go-lucky in his comic roles, and his powerful dramatic roles showcased his skill and dedication as an actor. What could have possibly led such an accomplished individual to commit suicide? For about a year, rumors ran rampant that his death was linked to serious depression.
In 2015, Williams’ widow finally came forward and set the record straight. Apparently Williams had been battling with Lewy body dementia. This debilitating disease was taking a swift toll on Williams’ ability to function as an independent adult. In addition to impaired motor function, Lewy body dementia caused Williams to experience hallucinations and fluctuating mental states.
Williams’ widow claimed that if he had not committed suicide, he could have maybe had another three years of life ahead of him. However, she acknowledged that those would have been three very challenging years. Apparently Williams’ symptoms had worsened significantly in the months preceding his death, and while he had never spoken to his wife about suicidal urges, she believes it was his degenerating physical and mental state that drove him to take his own life.
Even in situations such as this, suicide is still heartbreaking. It is tragic that Williams suffered in silence. His widow revealed that though he had struggled with addiction for much of his life, he had been “clean and sober” for the 8 years leading up to his death.
The fact that he overcame his addiction is powerful testimony to his willpower and determination. The fact that he still ultimately succumbed to suicide is an equally powerful testimony to the fact that even people who overcome great challenges and achieve great success can still fall victim to our nation’s most dangerous killer.
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Overall, Robin Williams’ struggles with mental and physical illness remained a secret until his suicide forced many of the issues out into the open. While I have always loved Williams’ work and my heart goes out to him and his family, I wish he would have used his position of influence to help break the silence surrounding mental illness. Fortunately, other celebrities have used their position for this purpose. Carrie Fisher is an excellent example.
Carrie Fisher was a much-loved actress who was most famous for her iconic role as Princess Leia in Star Wars. Second only to this role, however, she was famous for dedicating much of her life to being a powerful advocate for mental health.
Carrie Fisher struggled with drug addiction and bipolar disorder for much of her life. She began smoking marijuana when she was only 13, started using LSD when she was 21, and was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was 24.
Fisher dedicated much of her adult life to ending the stigma surrounding mental illness by speaking openly about her personal experiences and struggles. She made it a point to connect with fans that opened up about their own battles with mental illness. She is quoted as having responded to one reader with bipolar disorder by saying, “We have been given a challenging illness, and there is no other option than to meet those challenges.”
Fisher died of a heart attack on December 27, 2016. Even in death, she continues to be an advocate for mental health. She chose to be cremated, and, per her request, her ashes are kept in a special urn shaped like a Prozac pill.
How Will You Handle Your Own Issues With Mental Health?
As you face your own battles with mental health, you are faced with the same question as everyone else: will you choose to keep your struggles a secret, or will you share them with the world? While keeping them a secret (as Robin Williams did) is tempting for obvious reasons, the world needs more heroes (like Carrie Fisher) who face their fears and open up about their challenges.
My hope for you is that you find the strength and bravery to tell someone – anyone – about your struggles. Telling the first person is often the hardest step. It will get easier to talk about as you practice.
If you are looking for someone to talk to about your challenges with mental health, I would be honored if you would consider setting up an e-counseling session with me. For more information about my online therapy services, visit my website at www.NeverGiveUp.care. Together, we can help ensure that you never give up!