The death of actor, comedian and academy award winner Robin Williams by suicide after a battle with depression and alcohol abuse has taken me back to several months ago when we were mourning the death of another American icon, actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who died of a drug overdose. These two deaths cause me to pause and ask the question: "Are we asking too much from those who entertain us?"
Prior to their deaths both men had struggled with a history of drug and alcohol addiction. Both had been sober for many years, but had recently relapsed. Following the news of their deaths, the internet was filled with sad reactions about losing such great talents. Bloggers talked about their personal experiences with these men. They wrote about the last movie or play they saw and reminisced as to how their movies and plays had personally impacted them. One woman even wrote about how Robin Williams portrayal of a therapist in the movie Good Will Hunting taught her how to be a better psychologist. One wonders how it would be to have complete strangers so involved in your life, and impacted by your work. Again I wonder -- are we asking too much from our celebrities?
There are many questions related to these untimely celebrity deaths. Why are so many high profile people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction? Why do we feel as if we've lost a close friend when in reality we only know these celebrities through their work and publicity releases. In fact, we often view our favorite celebrities as more than human. We may see them as flawless superheroes, and they become part of our ideal family.
We can turn them on and off in our living rooms with the click of a remote, and we can choose to like them or hate them depending on the roles they play, and our moods that day. But who are they really, when they're not playing a role? Unless we are truly friends or family with them, we have absolutely no idea. We take them into our hearts and homes and now suddenly and tragically they have left us.
Death Denying Society
It is often said that we are a death denying society, but I think our reaction to these celebrity losses illustrates that we are very connected to death, just not deaths that touch too close to home. Celebrity death gives us a chance to explore our thoughts and feelings about death at a safe distance. We can explore the depths of our feelings in a larger community, as thousands of people come together on the internet to share our shock, disbelief and sense of loss. However, in reality those who really suffer are the families and friends of these celebrities. They were the ones who really knew them as individuals and who will grieve the loss of those intimate relationships for many years to come. Unfortunately, death by suicide and accidental overdose all too often carry a lifetime of stigma and sorrow for those family members left behind.
These celebrity losses can also trigger painful memories of our own past losses and can raise existential questions. Questions such as: Why would these celebrities, who have everything with regard to fame and fortune turn to drug and alcohol abuse and suicide? This may cause some to feel more depressed about their own lives, as we might think if this is the case what is the hope for me? If celebrity loss is triggering painful memories about past losses or causing you to have negative or depressive thoughts about your own life, would suggest you may want to try one of the following:
- Reach out to supportive friends and family. Talk to them about how you're feeling. Plan a fun activity with them such as cooking your favorite food or having a game night.
- Take a news break. The 24/7 news coverage regarding celebrity loss can be overwhelming and disturbing.
- Get exercise. Go for a walk, play golf or tennis or go to the gym. Activity will help your body naturally release those "feel good hormones."
- Do not self medicate. If you have a history of drug or alcohol abuse and are tempted to use these substances, attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or Narcotics Anonymous meeting.
- Find outside help. If you are concerned about a family member who is struggling with addiction you can get help for yourself and find support at Al-Anon.
- Be aware of the signs of depression in yourself and others. Check out the Forbes on-line article and learn about five common signs of depression.
- If you or a family member are having feelings that you no longer want to live, reach out immediately to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255.
Check in with yourself. Are you living too much through others? If so isn't it time to find your own authentic self? You may want to make an appointment with a therapist and get some help and support for yourself.