There is a trend right now in pop culture for celebrities to be more open about mental illness and their experiences with depression and anxiety disorders. While it is definitely positive to see representation from public figures, it is more valuable and effective for us to share our own stories with each other to reduce stigma.
On Feb. 15, actress Lili Reinhart from the popular television show “Riverdale” posted to her Instagram story sharing that she is returning to therapy for depression. Reinhart’s messages encouraged her followers to seek help when they are having trouble with mental health, reminding them that it “doesn’t matter how old you are or how ‘proud’ you’re trying to be.”
The actress has previously been open about her depression, even taking a break from Twitter in December to avoid the negativity of comments from viewers, according to Glamour.
Openness from Reinhart and other celebrities is a positive step in the direction toward reducing stigma, but is nowhere near as effective as people we actually know sharing their experiences.
The terrible way actors, singers and other famous people are treated online already demonstrates that there is a disconnect leading audiences to forget that they’re real people, too. The fact that we have to keep being reminded that celebrities are just like us undermines the notion that sharing their challenges with mental illness will have much of a lasting impact on the conversation surrounding mental health.
Dr. Patrick Corrigan is a psychology professor and researcher at the Illinois Institute of Technology responsible for developing the TLC3 strategy, which outlines effective procedures for reducing mental illness stigma on a national level. His research shows that attitude change is more likely for those who engage in open conversation with people in their daily lives about mental illness.
If we really want to send the message that it’s OK to have depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other mental illnesses, then we need to let our friends and family know just how common it is. As long as the only people sharing stories are celebrities, the representation for regular people will still not be enough.