Celebrity Suicide, media & our mental health

Suicide is a phenomenon that has a grim note to it. Life is hard, and when we are not able to cope with the challenges of living, some of us resort to willfully ending their lives. According to the World Health Organisation, 8,00,000 people commit suicide every year.

To put that into perspective, every 40 seconds someone, somewhere decides to end their life. It might come as a revelation, but globally, suicide takes the second-highest toll among 15-29-year-olds.

It doesn’t matter whether you are rich or poor, layman or a celebrity, suicide has percolated every aspect and layer of our society.

However, when celebrities, with their godlike picture-perfect personas, fall prey to it, the news hit us hard. And the repercussions are intense; from raging social media discussions and speculations to even suicide contagion – also known as copycat suicide. When our seemingly infallible heroes suddenly leave us with unanswered questions, we can’t really make sense of it all.

So what is it about the human mind that makes us vulnerable to suicide?

The most common reason for suicide is depression. However, issues like psychiatric disorders, adverse life situations like having a terminal illness or the death of a loved one and substance use could be at play too. 

Apparently, even celebrities are not immune to the vagaries of life. Beneath that charming veil, one can never know what tribulations they might be going through. And that is true about lay people as well. We all are very good at hiding beneath a fake smile. We don’t like to come across as being weak and vulnerable so we maintain a facade; and become averse to opening up to others and seeking help.

Despite mental illnesses being widely prevalent and fatal, there is a stigma attached to it. There is also a lack of awareness about mental health that perpetuates this stigma and misinformation.

For celebrities, this type of milieu further complicates the situation. If they are forthright with their ailment, they risk their career. When your every move is being scrutinized and judged, and when the pressure of delivering every time weighs heavily on you, it’s hard not to buckle under the pressure.

Influence of Celebrity Suicide

Celebrities are idolized and emulated. And when a star commits suicide, its effect might sometimes be personally felt by the followers. It’s been observed that following the death of a celebrity; there is a noticeable increase in the number of suicides in the general population. This phenomenon is called copycat suicide, where people who are already grappling with suicidal ideation suddenly go ahead with it, presumably because they might get inspired by it. It’s been also found that people who are affected by celebrity suicide are more likely to have suicidal ideation.

The Role of Media

Extensive and obsessive media coverage of celebrity suicides creates a widespread sensation. However, media houses should sensitively handle such stories. They must strive to raise awareness surrounding mental illness and suicides so that the vulnerable and impressionable are encouraged to seek help.

Our Role

The hardest part of dealing with suicides is our inability to identify someone who is at the verge of it. A little bit of mindfulness and empathy combined with kindness and a patient ear could come a long way in getting someone on the path of recovery.

The subject of mental health should also be a part of our broader discussion at home, office and even at schools. Positive stories of struggle and recovery should be brought to light and shared widely so that people feel encouraged to talk about their own stories. 

Celebrity suicides act as a stark reminder about the severity of mental illnesses. Instead of losing hope we must resolve to talk to each other more constructively about it.

Discussing gloomy subjects like mental illness and suicide might be uncomfortable, but that’s the only way we can hope to help the struggling ones amongst us.

Written by Yunesh Chettri

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