Studies (Kenny, 2014) show that the stress, isolation, and bullying that comes with living in the public eye can decrease your lifespan by 25 years.
It is well-known that the rise in celebrity culture grew in tandem with the advent of social media. However, while these are new societal phenomena, they did not emerge out of a vacuum. As early as 1838, Charles Dickens noted that he had begun to suspect that celebrity will rob me of my dignity.’ Flash forward to over 182 years later, and this fear Dickens articulated has reached newfound heights.
Today, we subject celebrities to thousands upon thousands of daily commentaries about their personal life. Paracelsus Recovery works with high-profile clients such as celebrities and has seen how the stress that comes with living up to the public’s expectations and being at the mercy of the tabloids affects their mental health. Therein, with the growing number of mental health concerns, public vindications, suicides, and untimely deaths of those living in the public eye, it is time to ask ourselves, do we grasp the extent of our destructive influence on those we most celebrate?
Public Opinion Controls a Celebrity’s Career
In 1995, Mary Loftus poignantly described celebrities as “living Rorschach tests,” appreciated not for who they are but for who the public decides they are. While her words ring true, she wrote this in the 90s, at a time when, at the very least, stars could hide in their homes. However, today, celebrities cannot escape the public eye — it is no longer just at their doorstep, but now in their living room. Their private life is evaporating before their eyes, and this drastically increases feelings of loneliness and heightens the chances for burnout. These individuals are under a never-before-seen pressure to live up to the expectations imposed on them by the public, and if they fail to do so, it can cost them their career. Studies (Holt-Lunstad et al., 2015) have also found that loneliness increases our mortality rate by 26% — which may be a reason as to why celebrities die so much younger than the general population.
It is Acceptable to Stalk Them
There exist countless horror movies that capitalize on our human fear of being followed, stalked, or preyed upon by someone who has become fixated on another. For a celebrity, this is business as usual. Four years ago, in an emotional interview with CBS, Lady Gaga poignantly noted that as a celebrity, she belongs to everyone else and it wreaks havoc with her mental health. What’s more, it extends beyond the individual and into the celebrities’ families. Charles Figley, who has undertaken various studies about celebrity’s private lives, noted that “celebrity families are like inhabitants of a castle, complete with drawbridges and guards.” He wrote this in 1992, and one can imagine just how much those drawbridges have evolved, and the family inside has grown more isolated in the last 28 years. Thus, not only must the individual battle their lack of privacy, they must deal with feelings of guilt and worry for their families.
Stars Already Have a Predisposition to Mental Health Issues
Paracelsus Recovery notes that there is a potent link between creativity and mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, depression, and addiction. Thus, hundreds of artists who are already battling mental ill-health and low self-esteem before entering a spotlight which functions to fuel them. This is articulated in the words a celebrity once shared with Louis Fitzmaurice — a live-in therapist at Paracelsus Recovery. The star told him that when people look at him, “they look at me…as if I have something extra…but they’re wrong, there’s something missing.” This highlights that the more of you that is missing, or otherwise, the more fragile your self-esteem and self-identity are, the more you can act like a Rorschach test for the public’s identification.
Thus, stars are created via our own desired identity and then torn down once they fail to meet the public’s expectations. The pressures one must battle in the face of this responsibility are enormous, and it has been said a thousand times — if this is truly an inherent part of the job, then celebrities are not paid nearly enough. Instead of asking them to fill those parts of us which are missing, and punishing them when they don’t, we must start celebrating these individuals for their art and respect that they are doing a job they were paid to do.
Fame is Now a Breeding Ground for Mental Health Issues
Kenny’s study that examined the mortality rates of famous individuals noted that one of the critical factors at play was the prevailing stereotypes of ‘lifestyles of the rich and famous.’ Paracelsus Recovery elaborates upon this, and notes that combined with these stereotypes, our adoration and expectations lead celebrities down an incredibly lonely path. It is time to challenge the invasive behavior that celebrities are told they must tolerate. We must decrease our expectations placed on these stars, and instead, embrace them for their artistry. To do so, we must practice compassion and empathy, reminding ourselves that those artists we love are human beings. Flawed, vulnerable, human beings with limitations, like everybody else.
Holt-Lunstad, J. Smith, T. Baker, M. (2015). Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk factors for Mortality: A Meta-Analytic Review. Perspectives on Psychological Science. 10(2): 227–237. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691614568352.