The Media Can Advance Stigma of Mental Illness
There are days when, as a health reporter, I'm ashamed to be considered a member of the "media." Today is one of them.
The news is ripe (and pungent) with coverage of Owen Wilson's hospitalization. The Associated Press reports that he was taken by ambulance from his Santa Monica home "for unspecified reasons." Fox News, however quotes a source "close" to Wilson as saying "that the actor did indeed attempt suicide over the weekend, saying Wilson has been depressed for the last few months." As I write this, our local noon news broadcast has just ended, and "Inside Edition" has just started. Their first headline? "Owen Wilson, the mystery over his emergency hospitalization -- Was it a suicide attempt?"
My opinion of this coverage? Thumbs up to the AP! Thumbs down to FoxNews and Inside Edition.
But wait! Let's take a look at why the media behave this way. Stop and consider this for a moment, please. If there were no audience for this kind of "reporting," it wouldn't exist, wouldn't keep happening. The public has become obsessed with all things celebrity. It pays to report such things. Maybe it's an example of "which came first, the chicken or the egg?" Has media insensitivity and sensationalization created the obsession with celebrity, or has the public's obsession with celebrity created this type of reporting?
Especially with invisible illnesses such as depression, myths and misconceptions abound. They make the lives of everyone living with those illnesses more difficult. There are people who are suffering because these misconceptions make them feel ashamed or embarrassed and not seek treatment. Celebrities and noncelebs alike tend to hide them for fear of them negatively impacting their careers.
We sometimes wish a celebrity who shares our disease would go public and speak for us as Michel J. Fox has spoken for those with Parkinson's. Until the "shame" that some associate with illnesses such as depression is overcome, it's unlikely that any celebrity will be willing to do so.
Celebrities are human beings. Anyone who thinks they deserve to know the intimate details of celebrities' lives because they buy a movie ticket or music that contributes the "fortunes" that some celebrities make has problems of their own. Perhaps Owen Wilson shares the disease that causes many of us to come to this site for information and support, depression. Public scrutiny and speculation will not help him get his life back on track. It may, in fact, make it more difficult. I will, therefore, end by quoting his request:
- "I respectfully ask that the media allow me to receive care and heal in private during this difficult time."
The Associated Press. "Owen Wilson Wants to 'Heal in Private.'" Los Angeles. August 28, 2007.
FoxNews.com. "Report: Owen Wilson Attempted Suicide After Blow-Up With Close Friend." Los Angeles. August 28, 2007.*
* Note: I would usually link to online reports referenced, but this one is despicably invasive, and I will not link to it.