What if we cared for everyone…regardless of fame, fortune or faith.

What if we cared for everyone…regardless of fame, fortune or faith.

by Dr. Timothy Sharp – Clinical & Coaching Psychologist (Twitter @drhappy) 

In recent weeks we've seen several high profile examples of the devastation mental illness can cause. If we needed any more evidence that no one, regardless of fame and fortune and beauty, is immune to psychological problems we need look no further than the distress we've seen in the cases of Ian Thorpe (Olympic Swimmer), Phillip Seymour Hoffman (actor and Academy Award winner) and Charlotte Dawson (television/media personality). 

Depression; drug addiction; suicide. And this is just the last few weeks! 

Yet as a clinical and coaching psychologist for more than two decades now, and most recently as a posiitve psychologist I try, where ever possible, to find the silver lining to the clouds. It's not always easy to do, sometimes impossible in fact, but in each of these cases if there is a positive it could possibly be found in the outpouring of public affection, sympathy and understanding for these individuals. 

It's heartening to read and hear comments, from those who know/knew these people and even from those who didn't, expressing empathy and encouragement, love and compassion. 

But at the same time, it's hard to ignore a few key points – these people were all famous, and highly "succesful". They were in the spotlight and largely lauded for their work and so it's easy to shine the light on their achievements and, then, excuse their "failings". It's as though their inner demons were ignored in lieu of focusing on their inner gods! 

Furthermore, it's impossible to ignore that they all suffered from the same affliction (despite or possibly because of their public positions); not the same psychological disorder, but the same inability or unwillingness, largely, to talk about how they were feeling and most importantly to reach out and ask for help. 

This latter issue I see, daily, monthly and yearly, all too often. But for the average person the difficulties they experience reaching out are exacerbated by the fact their achievements or successes are not considered to be substantial enough to overshadow their "issues" and/or their lives are seen as just too "ordinary" to be of interest. Unfortunately, then, rather than the understanding and empathy and love offered to these celebrities Mr. and Mrs average "Joe" or "Jane" is instead, confronted with labels such as "weak" or "hopeless" or at times, even worse…malignant, useless, attention seeking. 

Once more, however, I turn to the positive and encourage anyone reading this to look toward the people and organisations who're directly trying to address the core issue here – the stigma associated with mental illness.

The inspiring Batyr, for example, is just one example; they run school and university programs with the sole aim of helping young people share personal, lived-experiences with other young people in the hope those suffering will feel less alone. Their research indicates that following one of their programs more than 90% of attendees (a fantastically impressive statistic) report feeling more prepared to seek help (NB: I should declare here that I'm on the Board of Batyr and so slightly, but unashamadly biased in favour of their work!) 

But this is not just about Batyr; or RUOK? Day, or BeyondBlue, BlackDog, ReachOut or any of the other great groups doing great work. 

The core message here is – why should depression be any more shameful or embarrassing than any other illness or injury? Or, for that matter, any other problem for which we recognise the need to seek professional advice. No one would be afraid to admit going to the dentist if they experienced tooth pain, nor would many (thanks in part to great organisations such as the McGrath Foundation) hide from their friends a need to see a specialist if they were concerned about a lump in their breast. As a matter of course most people talk to an accountant at least once a year to discuss matters of taxation.  If we could achieve a similar situation with depression, anxiety and other psychological problems then there's no doubt lives would be saved. 

And just one final point for you to consider – those lives that we could save are the lives of your mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues. Because there's no doubt that almost everyone will know someone affected by mental illness at some point in their lives; and if you'd like them to receive the compassion and love and care and consideration they deserve, then surely all, regardless of fame, fortune or faith deserve something similar. 

So let's all do what we can to make something positive out of all this distress. Offer support to friends and loved ones AND accept their support when offered to you. In the words of a very famous Buddhist monk, "Be kind whenever possible; it is always possible." 

PS: If you or someone you know needs help then please consider one of the following options: 

  • talk to a friend or family member

  • consult your local GP 

  • Contact LifeLine via their website HERE or by calling on 13 11 14