It wasn’t that long ago that acknowledging mental health issues was seen as a sign of weakness.
Seeing a therapist or psychiatrist meant you just weren’t “strong enough” to handle the stress of daily life. But young people, and especially those in positions of cultural influence, have changed that narrative.
Across popular culture — be it music, acting, comedy or sports — there’s been a sea change in how our idols communicate about mental health.
Steve Ladurantaye, a Canadian journalist and advocate for mental health problems, said that today’s artists and athletes have begun to talk about mental health with an openness and vulnerability that has radically changed the harmful “keep it to yourself” attitude that has long dominated the conversation.
“In just the last few years, many of the most visible figureheads of art and culture have changed the conversation by having the courage to speak out about deeply personal issues,” Ladurantaye said.
The most talked-about story from the last Olympics had nothing to do with gold medals. Simone Biles entered the Tokyo Olympics with high expectations, as she was already one of the most decorated athletes of all time.
Ultimately, Biles withdrew from the competition, openly admitting that she felt like she was carrying “the weight of the world on her shoulders.” Not only did most spectators support Biles in her decision, but it has already resulted in changes to how the USA Olympic team handles mental health problems among its athletes.
Athletes will also be given access to free counseling, group therapy, and hotlines in case of crisis, and Team USA is also providing free access to wellness apps like WellTrack and Headspace Plus, and have curated a list of counselors who have experience with elite athletes.
“Athletes face some of the greatest pressure of any of us, and they deserve all the support we can give them,” Ladurantaye said. “Biles deserves immense credit for these changes.”
Musicians in particular have become very open about their mental health struggles, which is especially important given the long history of these problems among artists.
A 2018 study from the Music Industry Research Association concluded that half of all musicians said they experienced depression — that’s compared with less than 25 percent of the general adult population. Nearly 12 percent reported having suicidal thoughts — nearly four times the general population.
A well-researched 2020 piece from Rolling Stone chronicled the tragic deaths of many artists by suicide, including rapper Mac Miller, superstar DJ Avicii, Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, and Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington.
At the same time, musicians from across the industry, including Bruce Springsteen, Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato and Lizzo have all talked openly about their own problems, leading to hopeful signs that the music industry, the article said.
“Small improvements to mental health services can have big impacts,” Ladurantaye said.
Actors and Comedians
The conversation has also changed among performers, including actors and comedians that have made their personal struggles a part of their public identity, Ladurantaye said.
Comedian Chris Gethard recently wrote a moving essay, titled “Dad on Pills: Fatherhood and Mental Illness,” about his anxiety over parenting, calling for a change in society’s view of mental health, especially toward men and fathers.
“There’s right now a pretty wholesale rejection of the idea that people need to be tough, men need to be tough, kids need to be tough,” Gethard said. “I think a lot of that is going by the wayside, or at the very least we’re kind of re-examining what toughness means and entails.”
On the sets of movies and TV shows, it’s now increasingly common to have on-site therapists to help the cast and crew cope, The New York Times reported.
While the conversation around mental health has improved, Ladurantaye said, much remains to be done in actually supporting the people suffering from these issues.
A NY Times survey of over a thousand therapists found that “mental health providers are in high demand, and they can’t keep up.” The need for additional mental health services is huge and remains unaddressed, Ladurantaye said.
“The attitude about mental health has changed for the better, and it’s because of people having the courage to speak about it,” Ladurantaye said. “But now we need to act on this changed conversation and improve the availability of mental health services — for all of us.”
Published by HOLR Magazine.