There’s a very good chance you are reading this because you, or someone close to you, either has or is currently experiencing depression. Despite the fact depression is so common it is still surrounded by stigma. We can be our own worst enemies in this regard because we often self-stigmatize. In this way our own beliefs about mental illness come back to bite us. The most commonly held negative beliefs about depression are that people with it are weak, unreliable or have some character deficit. If we then become the victim of depression these core beliefs are turned in on ourselves as truths.
You won’t have failed to notice the number of celebs who offer themselves up as role models. There are some noticeably high profile figures. People like John Adams, Winston Churchill, Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln stand as towering historic figures. But the list of celebs admitting to depression has steadily increased and embrace all aspects of life from astronaut Buzz Aldrin, to detective writer Raymond Chandler, singer Ray Charles, and a number of actors like Courtney Cox, Johnny Depp, Harrison Ford and Gwyneth Paltrow, to name just a handful.
Should the knowledge that depression strikes so many famous people make us feel better about ourselves? There’s an argument that it’s good to have role models of course but is it just possible that the gap between our normal everyday lives and those of the celebrity is just a bit too wide? At one level it provides a somewhat warped reassurance to know that celebrity status and money can’t protect anyone from depression. At least you can’t buy your way out of depression or avoid the changes associated with it. On the other to what extent can we really understand a world where the pressures of high office or of fame and stardom apply to us?
Actors, sportsmen and women, politicians and those in the media spotlight generally represent a level of prominence outside of our everyday sphere of contact. I applaud their willingness to step forward but I also think there is a level of personal protection that comes with celebrity status and which, by definition, makes them different to ‘us’. Who are the people we feel a real affinity with and can connect to? Maybe our local doctor, bank manager, teachers, nurses, priests and social workers can help to bridge the gap? I suspect it’s going to take a while before most people with depression are prepared to ‘out’ themselves because of all the fears and potential ramifications that still exist if they did.
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Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.