Mourning Heath Ledger

by Christina Bruni Patient Expert

Heath Ledger lived in Brooklyn with Michelle Williams and their daughter, Matilda, until they broke up and he moved to SoHo. His tragic death is a loss felt by fans everywhere. There is speculation that the death may have been a suicide. I wouldn't ever judge another person for the choice he made. Even million-dollar actors get the blues.

Rather than delay a blog entry about the topic, I feel the need to address this. American males are expected to just "buck up" and "deal with it"-either stoically or heroically- when faced with hardship. So men bottle things up-and often turn to drugs or alcohol to numb their pain.

The male stereotypes do more harm than good. Six years ago, I read in the New York Times Magazine about how high-level managers in corporations were being laid off, and the men had to take minimum-wage jobs at the GAP or Starbucks so they could support their families. When I read that article, I was angry that so much is expected of men. They are supposed to be the breadwinners while women are nurturers.

Indeed, two-thirds of men are "thinkers" according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and two-thirds of women are feelers, also according to this personality type test. I'm in the minority because I'm an INTJ-a woman with a preference for thinking, and as it is, INTJs comprise only 1 or 2 percent of the population. So men who feel (and women who think) too much could naturally feel out of synch with their gender.

Seeing beyond stereotypes, it's not hard to understand how someone could feel like a failure for not living up to the role society expects him to play. Treatment works, but how many men actually seek it, or honestly talk about it if they've been in a psychiatric hospital or are taking antidepressants?

Living with this secret shame is a recipe for tragedy.

Years ago, after I left the halfway house, I learned that two male peers had killed themselves. One shot himself with his father's gun. He had been clinically depressed for years. Stereotypes create a different kind of stigma, one much more destructive than simple "psycho"-bashing in the media.

Every day, each of us wakes up and plays a role in his life that others come to expect. Some of us are attorneys. But what if you're an attorney who one day wakes up and has the urge to perform Shakespeare in the Park?

Right now, I'd like to think I could be an advocate forever: giving and giving to others, but even I feel the burn out of having sub-energetically worn myself down. That's why I exercise three to four times a week, stick to a writing routine on the days I'm not at the gym, and clear one full day on the weekend to do absolutely nothing. Don't be surprised if one day I wake up and decide to make good on my desire to travel to Ireland on a much-needed vacation.

Someone I know is hurting, and I fear one day he'll give up the fight. I've had to be "tougher than all that," and I'm a woman, but what if you're a man and worry that your depression signals a personal weakness? Wouldn't you hide the truth?

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, males are three to five times more likely to commit suicide than females.

One of the risk factors for suicide is a psychiatric disorder: "At least 90 percent of people who kill themselves have a diagnosable and treatable psychiatric illness, such as major depression, bipolar depression, or some other depressive illness, including schizophrenia. Also alcohol or drug abuse, particularly when combined with depression."

Something I do for myself: I see a therapist on Monday nights. Three years ago, I intuitively decided that I wanted to work on certain things in my life. It is self-evident to me to seek help when I need it. From an early age, I had a self-preservation ethic.

Also, I always saw the glass as half full, and I was thirsty, so drank it.

Not everyone has this optimism, though. I'll try to express how I feel: at any given moment, your life could change for the better.

When the blues get too blue for you, I suggest you talk to a professional. If you are in crisis, call 1 (800) 273-TALK (8255). Life truly is worth living. As hard as it gets, there are people who care and are just a phone call away.

Christina Bruni
Meet Our Writer
Christina Bruni

Christina Bruni wrote about schizophrenia for HealthCentral as a Patient Expert. She is a mental health activist and freelance journalist.