Earlier this month the world was rattled by the suicides of two of the brightest lights in the realm of business and entertainment.
On June 5th, Kate Spade, an entrepreneur whose handbags and accessories brighten the lives of millions of women, succumbed to the darkness that plagued her soul. Just a few days later, Anthony Bourdain, a charismatic man who ascended from the humblest beginnings to celebrity chief, surrendered to the crushing weight of hopelessness and despair.
Everyone is asking is how could two people who seemed to have it all ever even contemplate suicide?
The answer has to do with the nature of celebrity and the challenges these human beings face in accessing quality mental health care.
The nature of celebrity
From the outside, celebrity looks like life perfected.
From the inside, however, it’s a life riddled with insecurities, vulnerabilities, hypersensitivity and a chronic fear of falling from a lofty perch.
Celebrities are objectified
As I explain in my upcoming book, celebrities are people who’ve been stripped of their humanness and objectified for a feature of their being – their beauty, their voice, their surname, their wealth, their intellect or their charisma. In this objectification, they become pawns in others’ ego gratification and tokens of others’ pleasure.
All goes well as long as they act consistently with the veneer of their celebrated feature. But when they evidence any signs of frailties inherent in their humanity, they’re decimated by the media and betrayed by their public.
Celebrities are isolated in their pain
Unfortunately, unlike other human beings who have strong social support systems who they can trust, celebrities are isolated in their pain. If they do reach out for help, they’re hunted like prey or taken advantage of by treatment providers who see them as profit centres and fodder for their narcissist egos.
But this trajectory of exploitation, suffering and loss can be changed and celebrity patients moved in a reparative direction.
Providing quality care
Quality care demands that at every stage of the power and economic spectrum, patients must be provided treatment that addresses their distinct cultural markers. For celebrities, my research and clinical practice over the last decade has identified the following three:
Suspiciousness of outsiders
The burden of transcending these markers and meeting the patient in a place of cultural competency and clinical excellence is on the treating professional.
Celebrities are a distinct minority group
It’s time for the field of mental health to recognize that celebrities are a distinct minority group with distinct cultural markers. We need to meet them in the darkness of their souls rather than demonizing them when they show human vulnerability or exploiting them as glamorous profit centres.
Yes, celebrities occupy a rarified position in our society, but culturally competent and clinically excellent care is a right, not a privilege that the treatment community owes to every human being at every cultural manifestation.
Paul Hokemeyer, J.D., Ph.D., is an internationally renowned Marriage and Family Therapist licensed in the states of New York and Colorado. He appears regularly in a variety of media outlets including CNN, FOX News, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. In addition to maintaining a clinical and consulting practice, he works as a case manager to ultra high net worth and celebrity patients to ensure they obtain the highest level of clinical care. His book on the topic of celebrity and mental health is scheduled to be published by Hazelden Publishing, Summer 2019. You can read more about Dr Paul and his work here.