Celebrities with Depression: Owen Wilson
While I am not surprised (but quite saddened) by the media hounding received by Owen Wilson, his family and associated executives in the industry, what does continue to surprise (and sadden) me is the continuing lack of awareness and reporting surrounding mental illness as well as suicide.
Considering that Mr. Wilson requested, "I respectfully ask that the media allow me to receive care and heal in private during this difficult time," it is clear that even he perceives his situation as serious. His request has fallen on deaf ears. Newscasters are camped out at Cedars-Sinai.
If indeed Owen Wilson suffers from depression and if he indeed did try to attempt suicide (as up to this point no statements have been released to confirm or deny), requesting the media to grant him the courtesy to heal and receive treatment in private should ethically be honored. Ethics do not sell air time or newspapers, however.
When reporting on mental health speculations of depression and suicide, wouldn't such reporting warrant at least some information to address the seriousness of the speculated mental health concerns shrouding the hospitalization?
Not so much. Media response (in the majority) clearly has only their interests in mind to sell a story. The severity of what is being speculated has yet to be addressed. Instead, reporters have gone so far as obtain a copy of the police log of a suicide attempt and post it on-line as a PDF. No-name sources "close" to the star are being quoted regarding his depression, suspected reasons for the suicide, and details on how it was accomplished. This type of reporting is potentially inaccurate and misleading as well as an indication of the lack of understanding of mental health concerns: to rely on no-name sources for information of this magnitude is not only dangerous, but disrespectful to Mr. Wilson. He should at least know who sold out on him.
If a reporter is going to speculate about depression and suicide, and then jump to how this may potentially harm his career, it would only seem logical that information would be given to explain why depression and suicide is viewed negatively in Hollywood. By leaping over the most important aspect-the stigma and ignorance still out there regarding mental health-what is left unsaid is an irresponsible failure in news coverage. Negative speculation for a celebrity's career due to mental illness does not bode well for those who are suffering and choose not to seek treatment for just these reasons.
Even the Associated Press couldn't report on the hospitalization without mentioning the speculation of suicide as well as first focusing on the career of Mr. Wilson. As evidenced by their topic sentence, "Owen Wilson's hospitalization has left Hollywood executives in a quandary over how to move forward with movies starring the highly bankable actor."
The AP headline was great ("Owen Wilson Wants to ‘Heal in Private'") but the hospitalization is not the first item mentioned and does not follow the lead-in of the headline. Again, if speculation about a suicide attempt is mentioned, shouldn't the issue of suicide at least be granted a single sentence? Are they too influenced by celebrity reporting?
To the AP's credit, the article did promote the notion of privacy and respect. What I do appreciate about this report by the AP as well as Daily Variety-a Hollywood trade paper that everyone in the business reads cover to cover daily-is that they both published the statement given by 20th Century Fox spokesman (when responding to what will happen with a movie Wilson will be filming) that "It‘s a totally inappropriate question at this time." He gets it. Also, Santa Monica Fire Battalion Chief would not comment on his knowledge citing federal privacy laws. He gets it too. A glimmer of a beginning.
Today, however, AP Entertainment published another article on Wilson. The article began with information that Wilson will not be filming his next movie. This article (like the previous) addressed Wilson's emotional state related to his career. And, in my opinion, it amplified the new speculations out there about substance abuse by quoting friends like Tom Arnold who said, ""Most people are confused by this, but as a recovering addict myself it gives me hope that this is his bottom and he can turn it around. He really is a good guy." Aiyee. At what point do we just allow Mr. Wilson to share what he needs to share with those he chooses to?
On Monday, the Wilson brothers fan-based website home page posted this message: "...The reason for and severity of his hospitalization has not been disclosed, though tabloid reports have been swirling that the actor attempted to commit suicide. Our good thoughts and prayers go to Owen and the entire Wilson family. We wish them all a speedy recovery and hope the press respects their privacy." This statement was then followed by Wilson's request to the press. The choice to support and not judge by a large fan-base is a good sign.
Are our concerns as a society regarding the severity of mental health reflected accurately by the media? Do Americans share the same need-to-know superficial mentality of the media rather than the importance of the information being reported? I think it's a toss up.
Society's progress toward accepting and understanding mental health is still slow. To address the world at large through media attention, it just may be up to celebrities themselves to address mental health stigma and ignorance. (Remember, it was Brooke Shields who garnered America's attention on the important mental health issue of post-partum depression.) We non-celebrities will continue to do our part and will continue to make strides in this area. We just don't have the public's full attention. Celebrities do.
In the event that Wilson should decide to speak out and share what is going on, perhaps then newscasters will spend time obtaining and reporting on information about depression, suicide, or mental illness and how it affects one in every ten people. This is a huge opportunity, but will it be bypassed? Will those in the executive chairs for written and aired media keep their wits about them for what is the real issue here: mental health, treatment, care, correction of stigma and promotion of education?
Associated Press. "Owen Wilson Wants to `Heal in Private'". Tuesday, August 28, 2007