Celebrities and Mental Health Advocacy

"There is a thin line that separates Laughter and pain, Comedy and tragedy, Humor and hurt." - Ema Bombeck


Robin Williams was born and raised in Chicago. He was  an award-winning actor whose legendary legacy is unparalleled. He died on August 11th 2014. Robin was a comedian and made some of the funniest movies of all time. He spent his life on stage and on-screen making people laugh, and if only for a moment, forget about the complications in their own life. His career was amazing, he had a wonderful family, the seemingly perfect life- most people couldn't understand what would make him commit suicide. 

No one knew about the battles Robin Williams was facing on a daily basis.  He suffered most of his life from mental illness. He had anxiety and depression but tried to mask the symptoms with drugs and alcohol. The love for his family was what ultimately empowered Robin to get sober. While he was able to kick his addictions, the mental illness was still very much present. His depression worsened and he sought help for his mental health. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in combination with his anxiety and depression. 

In the years leading up to his death, the Chicago native was suffering from serious attacks which started impacting his performances. Robin and his wife made several attempts to get more help from experts in Psychology, Psychiatry, and neurological Sciences. He wasn't comfortable, could barely relax, and he didn't know what to do to fix it. His insomnia was getting so bad that he suffered from the symptoms of sleep deprivation on top of the mental illnesses he was already battling. He was going through so much in his mind that he thought he had Dementia or Alzheimer's prior to his death. 

Unfortunately for Robin, he was not able to get a grip on his mental illnesses. Even though he had tried medications and therapy it was not enough for him to silence the magnitude of the storm brewing in his brain. After Robin died the pathology reports indicated that he had Lewdy body syndrome. 

His wife wrote a letter addressed to the neurologists and doctors with the hope that the information and symptoms regarding her husband’s condition would help them properly diagnose illnesses with the brain earlier.

“The massive proliferation of Lewy bodies throughout his brain had done so much damage to neurons and neurotransmitters that in effect, you could say he had chemical warfare in his brain.”

One professional stated, “It was as if he had cancer throughout every organ of his body.” The key problem seemed to be that no one could correctly interpret Robin's symptoms in time.

Mental illness is a serious problem and should be prioritized in every person's life. It does not discriminate. It doesn't care who you are or what you do. Robin Williams' story helps us understand that taking care of our physical body just isn’t enough. Our body is an entire package and all parts of it need to be taken care of. 

But Robin Williams wasn’t the only one in the spotlight to suffer from mental illness. You might be surprised how many celebrities battle mental disorders. 

The popular singer, Sinead O'Connor, has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She has lived with mental illness for most of her life. In 2012, she made a public statement:

“As you all know I had a very serious breakdown between December and March and I had been advised by my doctor not to go on tour but didn’t want to ‘fail’ or let anyone down as the tour was already booked to coincide with album release. So very stupidly I ignored his advice to my great detriment, attempting to be stronger than I actually am. I apologise sincerely for any difficulties this may cause.” 

August 2017, O’Connor came out publicly again, sharing more about the emotional struggle with videos depicting her life and  living with mental illness. “Mental illness is a bit like drugs. It doesn’t give a shit who you are. Equally you know what’s worse is the stigma who doesn’t give a shit who you are.” In a video the next day, she explained that she was suicidal.

Her story doesn't end there. Her son, Shane O'Connor, battled with the same mental illness. While on suicide watch at a hospital in Ireland, he ran away and hung himself. While his mother Sinead is very distraught, she understood all too well his need/desire to “end his earthly struggle.” 

Prince Harry Has been a vocal advocate for removing the stigma of mental illness from society. He also suffers from mental  health issues as a result of ptsd. His mother, Princess Diana, died in a car accident while trying to flee from the paparazzi that had been hounding and following them all day. Ever since she died, he began suffering from severe panic attacks. He was asked what triggered these panic attacks and responded, "In my case, suit and tie, every time I was in any room with loads of people, which is quite often, I was just pouring with sweat, like heart beating – boom, boom, boom, boom – and literally like a washing machine. I was like, 'Oh my God, get me out of here now.' Oh hang on, I can't get out of here, I have got to just hide it."

He has not been shy in sharing with the world that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, in 2016, he and his brother (along with his brother’s wife Kate Middleton) started the Heads Together campaign to finally "end the stigma around mental health issues.” 

In 2017 Justin Bieber came out explaining in an interview with Vogue magazine, that he suffered from depression while on tour. it was something that he didn't talk about because he didn't want to be viewed badly for suffering from mental illness. He did explain in that Vogue interview, and several other interviews as well as posting on social media since then, that he tried to mask his symptoms of depression and anxiety with prescription drugs.

He had said, "Drugs put a screen between me and what I was doing. It got pretty dark.”

He still suffers from mental illness but he openly advocates the importance of mental health and he is trying to help remove the stigma surrounding mental illness. 

Ariana Grande suffers from ptsd. In May of 2017, she had a concert in the Manchester Arena located in the UK.  A 22 year old suicide bomber made a shrapnel based homemade bomb and detonated it after her concert. Besides killing himself, he killed 22 other people that came to see her show and over a thousand people were injured. Ariana has suffered from anxiety her whole life. But this event, aggravated it and made the symptoms almost crippling. 

“I know those families and my fans, and everyone there experienced a tremendous amount of it as well. Time is the biggest thing. I feel like I shouldn’t even be talking about my own experience — like I shouldn’t even say anything. I don’t think I’ll ever know how to talk about it and not cry. I’ve always had anxiety. I’ve never really spoken about it because I thought everyone had it, but when I got home from tour it was the most severe I think it’s ever been.” 

In May of 2021, she decided to join the cause to end the stigma surrounding mental illness.

“Here’s to ending the stigma around mental health and normalizing asking for help. Healing isn’t linear, fun, quick or at all easy but we are here and we’ve got to commit to making this time as healthy, peaceful and beautiful as possible. The work is so hard but we are capable and worth it. Sending so much love and strength.”

As more and more celebrities stand up and admit to suffering from mental illness, maybe our society can be a little more accepting and compassionate in regards to Mental Health. 

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