Mental health professionals discuss what drives film stars and models to end their lives.
Why? Every time a celebrity commits suicide, that's the big question. After all, the celeb, seems to have everything most others only dream of: glamour, fame, wealth, public adulation. Often, at a relatively young age. Or is that why? Is it about too much, too soon?
But then, so many of the rich and famous manage to live out long, fulfilling lives with happy endings. Just as many born with severe handicaps or those who undergo trauma, face life courageously and become successes. So, what makes some people kill themselves and exit the world so tragically?
“Suicides happen everywhere. Not just among celebrities,” says Dr. Manju Mehta, Professor, Clinical Psychology, AIIMS, New Delhi. “It's just that celeb deaths receive huge attention. A certain personality type is more susceptible and that could be from any section of society. Having said that, yes, models and film stars do face certain circumstances, which taken with certain traits, make them more prone.”
Dr. S.K. Chaturvedi, Professor and Head, Dept of Psychiatry, NIMHANS, Bangalore, agrees: “Everyone, whatever his occupation — doctor, farmer, sportsperson, student — faces his own Unique Occupational Stress. For models and film-stars, it's about short-duration careers; swings in fortune; big ups-and-downs; and life under media glare.”
There's pressure to always look good. Also, models/actors getting a raw deal worry about asking for better treatment, given the crowd of wannabes always waiting outside the door of the agency or producer. This intensifies the stress. Former top model and celebrity compere Mehar Bhasin says that the competition and strong desire to be always in demand mean that pressure builds up everyday. “For those who can't handle this with maturity, the first recourse is alcohol, then medication, and finally drugs where they can't even think straight.”
The pressure can be greater for women in showbiz because they have a shorter stay at the top unlike men, who play heroes till 50-plus, enjoying the attendant fame and big bucks, says a leading model.
In fact, among film stars and models, we hear of more females than males taking their own life. Does suicide have a gender bias in the glamour world? Dr Chaturvedi replies: “We hear more about glamorous, famous women's suicides simply because of the media's reporting bias. Actually, for the entire population, more women attempt suicide than men, but there are more completed suicides among men.”
Family has great impact, say doctors. Happy stable celebrities have a constant factor: loving, supportive family. But the suicidal celeb is generally lonely and isolated. Either because family has been distanced for privacy or the members are too immersed in their own lives to notice warning signs.
Sometimes, family members notice but are too intimidated by the celeb's fame and power to counsel or provide reality checks. Or the family is enjoying the spill-over benefits of the celebrity status too much to want to intervene and change anything. Again, some celebs have exploitative families driving them to desperation.
Jealousy harms. Less-successful siblings/partner watching the celeb rise might feel heartburn. So, when the celeb begins his slide into hell, they look on with a conscious or unconscious satisfaction, not intervening. Also, a down-and-out celeb with selfish family/friends is ignored when sinking since he has already outlived his utility.
Personality matters. Dr. Mehta explains: “Some celebrities are highly egoistic, incapable of handling rejection/failure, personal or professional.” After living life king-size, always expecting and getting special treatment, they can't handle any withholding of gratification. Dr Chaturvedi adds: “Actors tend to be emotional, easily expressive of feelings. That's why they are actors! Such sensitive persons are more vulnerable.”
Often a person can be saved, if he stops blaming external forces, introspects and changes himself. But a self-centred, immature person is unable to soul-search, even believe he could be at fault. He continues to blame others and pity himself. Family might play along, out of fear, sycophancy, or indifference. Finally, this anger at the world and self-pity reaches an abnormal magnitude triggering suicide.
Dr. Chaturvedi says that, more important than fixing blame, is to recognise what suicide is. “A suicide attempt is a cry for help: ‘Someone save me please'. A suicide is the result when this cry goes unheard or unheeded. I think Guru Dutt's last films were a cry for help; others might see them as works of art.”
So, is there a remedy? Preventive strategies? Dr Chaturvedi has advice for the rich and famous: “Celebs need a personal mental-health professional (or spiritual guru), like they have personal fitness-trainers, beauticians, hairstylists. Celebs give so much attention to body; why not to the mind and emotions? In a crisis, they shouldn't fear stigma in consulting a psychiatrist/counsellor. Recognise that showbiz/sports careers are short; build a back-up.” Bhasin agrees: “Be involved in doing good, helping others. Get closer to family and into therapy at first warning signs.”
Suicides are tragedies but avoidable. And everyone can help prevent them. No one, in any profession, should let go of loved ones — cushions and safety valves — while rising. Understand that bad times happen to everyone. Think positive. Recall good times. Family/friends are duty-bound to intervene when a person is on the brink, without waiting to be approached. Don't romanticise suicide. Somewhere, someone is likely to be negatively influenced.
Whatever the magnitude of your problems, pause, and notice and help someone less fortunate around you. This not only benefits the receiver but you too; it is therapeutic for you as it takes your mind off your own problems and doing good always leaves you feeling good.
A suicide may be an act of weakness but also an act of great desperation preceded by an unheard call for help. So, help anyone who shows warning symptoms of abnormal stress or dangerous negativity.
Keywords: celebrity suicides