The Glorification of Mental Illness in Celebrity Culture
By Melissa Lipari
Hollywood has become this ethereal land of the elite over the decades, filled with idyllic lifestyles and gorgeous people. Our obsession with Hollywood and “celebrity culture” has caused paparazzi, media outlets, and social media to run rampant on circulating news about the hottest celebrities. The Daily Mail and TMZ are updating their pages hourly with the scoop on personal lives of beloved celebrities. You could scroll on TikTok for hours, watching videos about fan theories, celebrity experiences, and pretty much anything under the sun when it comes to Hollywood. The life of the rich and famous seems to constantly be at the forefront of news.
While this is all fun and games, we often forget that the lives we are obsessing over, are the lives of real people. When the cameras are turned off and they go home from work, they still have to live their life as a public figure - which has vastly impacted the mental health of many celebrities. Instead of advocating for their protection, many have actually made their mental health situations worse, particularly because of our glutinous intake of media consumption and need for constant gossip.
In recent weeks, the hashtag #FreeBritney has become an all out viral campaign after horrifying stories about Britney Spears’ rise to fame were brought to light. There are podcasts, Twitter threads, and various forms of media on this topic but to keep it short: BBC.com writes “The Princess of Pop's career has been in the hands of legal guardians known as a conservatorship since she faced a mental health crisis 12 years ago.” It was also recently exposed that people in her close circle, such as past staff, boyfriends, and even her own father have used Britney as a cash cow. They have purposefully put her through traumatic scenarios of being stalked by the paparazzi and arranged forced performances or appearances, going as far as to tell her to sing in a more high-pitched voice to distinguish herself from other female pop singers like Christina Aguilera, in order to heighten her exposure and wealth but simultaneously decrease her mental health.
Additionally, Kanye West has had his fair share of mental health battles in the public eye. West had a mental health crisis on camera during his July 19th presidential rally and it was all the Internet could talk about. Kanye has since withdrawn from the election race, but his mental health has certainly not recovered. During the South Carolina rally, he was clearly in the middle of a manic-bipolar episode, talking about how him and his wife, Kim Kardashian West, had plans to abort their first child. He also talked about the fact that he had plastic surgery due to the pressures of being on a reality TV Show (A.K.A. Keeping up with the Kardashians) that later got him addicted to Percocets. Kanye also solidified that he is a strong believer of being pro-marijuana, probably due to his instances of substance abuse, but was also fearlessly discussing his stance on pro-life and personal anti-abortion efforts. He even went as extreme as to criticize Harriet Tubman for not “fully freeing the slaves”. Yeah, that’s a lot to unpack.
I don’t agree with anything Kanye West said at his rally, except for the importance of alternative medicines like marijuana and the decriminalization of the drug, as well as the damage that mass incarceration has caused, but that doesn’t matter at the moment. Our personal feelings towards a celebrity’s beliefs have to be sidestepped when a mental health crisis is involved. What truly matters in this scenario, is that instead of someone on his team or someone who was in charge of the venue choosing to help Kanye off the stage during his manic episode because it was the right thing to do, they let him stay on stage in tears. He was damaging his reputation and career even further by making these outlandish statements, yet they allowed him to say everything that he wanted while not being in control of his mental state. Much like the Britney situation, it seems like Kanye’s team wants to benefit off of his deteriorating mental health - and want to make sure it’s always in front of the cameras.
We all remember when Britney shaved her head, when Kanye said slavery never existed or interrupted Taylor Swift, even when Michael Jackson held his baby outside of a hotel window, but we never took them as cries for help. We took them as moments in pop culture that were scandalous and entertaining. In a post from Psychology Today, Dr. William Shultz writes “My sense is that some people are simply temperamentally unsuited to be famous. Their talents merit fame, but their personalities don't stand up to it.” This is the exact reason as to why we have so many celebrities in situations where they take their own lives. Kurt Cobain, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, the list goes on and on. It’s due to this inability to not only cope with fame but receive help for their struggles and addictions that result in this fate.
While we personally are not the reason for their deaths, it is the pressure of fame and this constant need for gossip and “tea” that creates this fear and stress in many celebrities' lives. Now, I’m not saying that I am perfect when it comes to dodging the tabloids. If I see a story about a celebrity I really like, I’ll often click. However, I don’t stalk celebrities on the street or hold them up on a pedestal. It’s this god-like persona that we force upon the most successful people in Hollywood, that leads to their demise because they feel as if they can’t make a mistake. As I stated previously, celebrities are humans. They are not animals that are put on display for our enjoyment (and that’s not right either). It’s time we start respecting the privacy of those that we admire. Yes, I know that many “signed up” for the limited privacy and mobbing of fans and cameras when they chose this career path but I don’t think anyone in Hollywood signed up for mental health problems, addiction, or death in the process.
How We Can Advocate For Celebrities in Crisis
- Support a charity that they endorse/have created.
- Go to a concert or movie of theirs if you can afford to.
- Respect their boundaries if you ever see them in public.
- Be transparent with our own mental health struggles.
- Stop supporting toxic outlets such as TMZ and the Daily Mail.