Individuals who are very talented artistically and achieve early success or fame are in a very vulnerable position. As artists, they tend to be extremely sensitive by nature—this is part of their genius and is sometimes a burden they must bear. Such individuals can develop a perfectionistic relationship with their craft, feeling harshly critical of themselves even when they are succeeding. They can become very reliant on outside feedback to affirm their worth, whether this feedback comes in the form of reviews, money, fame, or career advancement. An over-reliance on others for self-worth is a precarious position for any human being and especially for those with celebrity status. A bad review, a cancelled show, financial troubles, or the feeling that their career is fading with time or age can lead to tremendous anxiety. They may live under a constant worry that they could lose their success at any minute—and, with it, their sense of personal value.
Add into the mix the Hollywood culture and the relentless pressure of the paparazzi, which, dominated by envy, enjoy nothing more than seeing the successful fail and exploiting their human weaknesses. Envy is an ugly aspect of human nature and one that makes life in the public eye enormously challenging. There is tremendous pressure to keep up a false front and little room for celebrities to feel that they can be regular people with regular lives, admitting their failures, learning through trial and error, and seeking help when they need it.
For some, drugs and alcohol offer relief from these painful and stressful experiences. Drugs and alcohol can be used as a kind of synthetic solution to life’s problems, a way to numb anxiety and create immediate pleasure, which someone in this state of mind so desperately needs. When you have the experience of being able to successfully alleviate such painful feelings in a quick, immediate way, such a solution becomes difficult to resist even when one works very hard at it. One may have periods of sobriety, making use of rehab and support groups, such as those found in twelve-step programs. But addiction is a chronic, life-long disease with an up-and-down course that wears on both an individual’s psyche and his or her support system. Relapse is common, and is stressful and discouraging. Add into the mix clinical depression—which often goes hand-in-hand with addiction—and you have a perfect storm.
At its root, suicide reflects an individual’s profound feeling of helplessness in his or her ability to cope with the demands of life, as well as hopelessness that life can get better. With ongoing setbacks that are a normal part of chronic illnesses such as depression and addiction, it is possible to lose faith that there are enough resources (inside and outside) that can make enough of a difference to go on and keep trying.
As a society, we have a long way to go in our efforts to decrease the stigma associated with mental health and addiction struggles. So many people suffer from them, including our heroes and our idols. But beneath any successful persona is just another human being, as vulnerable, sensitive, and imperfect as any other—and so deserving of our patience, our respect, and our understanding.