Mental illness is not exactly uncommon. According to the Mental Health Foundation, one in four people will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime and mental illness makes up 28% of all diseases in the world – the biggest by far. Going by this, several people you know will have suffered with a mental illness. It could be your mother, your brother, your cousin or your best friend. It could even be you. So why are we so insensitive when it comes to celebrities and mental health?
Recently, Kanye West announced he had cancelled an upcoming tour for undisclosed reasons – undisclosed until it was reported he’d been rushed into hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. Since then, more details have emerged: a combination of sleep deprivation and a robbery involving his wife Kim Kardashian in Paris a month previous has left him ‘shaken and paranoid’.
It’s a serious matter, but some reactions to the entire situation are disgusting. First, we need to look at the Paris robbery: why do people think this is funny? The Kardashians are not the public’s favourite family, granted, but this doesn’t change the fact that Kim Kardashian is a mother, a daughter, a sister and a wife. Nobody deserves to be held at gunpoint. ‘But she flaunts her wealth!’ you cry. Yes, her life revolves around social media and marketing herself, but I’ve seen sixteen year olds from small towns flaunting their new Pandora ring or brag about their iPhone upgrade on Snapchat too many times to count. Pot, kettle, anyone?
A gunpoint robbery is a traumatic experience for anyone. It’s not about the jewellery that was stolen, or the amount of money received from insurance. A robbery takes material items, but it gives you something too: pure fear and a need to look over your shoulder constantly. Imagine if that happened to someone you loved, if it was your wife that was threatened. Would you laugh it off, say she deserved it? Or would you say that it’s okay, because she can afford it anyway? No, you’d be angry, you’d be terrified and you’d feel guilty and that’s probably how West is feeling right now.
So why should we act like his mental problems are a joke? A meme is currently doing the rounds on Facebook, comparing West to the late Lemmy:
You’ve probably seen it. You probably read it, agreed and laughed it off, because this doesn’t tell you the true extent of West’s problems. And anyway, since when is it acceptable to one up each other using health issues? I personally don’t think these two situations are even comparable – mental health and physical health are two vastly different worlds with their own consequences, and everyone uses a different coping mechanism with their own issues so why do we feel the need to judge others?
But it’s not just Kanye West that has publicly faced mental health problems. At the start of the year, Justin Bieber controversially cancelled all booked meet and greets, with a statement on Instagram claiming that he feels “mentally and emotionally exhausted to the point of depression” after meeting fans. In this statement, he also addresses the exhaustion of having to meet people’s expectations. It’s all very valid, and fans seemed to agree with most comments showing nothing but support for the singer. But most negative comments seemed to come from those who aren’t even a fan – people claiming that he owes it to his followers, and once again comparing him to other celebrities.
Justin Bieber is well known, that much is obvious. He has a massive following, which is made up mostly of young girls who look up to him. He’s something of a role model, and to have to play that act on the days you’re feeling a bit off must be tiring to say the least. There’s also the reports that fans have previously pulled his hair, torn his clothes and purposely made him ill, so it’s clear that it’s not worth risking his safety, let alone his health.
And then there’s Zayn Malik, one time member of boyband One Direction. In September, he announced that he would be pulling out of a concert in Dubai due to “extreme anxiety around major live solo performances”. Once again, this is very valid but fans were left fuming. It’s a totally different process, playing a show by yourself vs. with a group, and more so because Malik is used to performing with four other men. In an interview with ES magazine, he said “I speak about [my anxiety] so that people don’t understand it doesn’t matter what level of success you have, where you’re from, what sex you are, what you do”.
It’s important that celebrities address these issues. Not only does it bring a better sense of understanding to mental illness, but it also removes the stigma surrounding it one person at a time. Mental health is not a joke, it’s not something to be mocked or laughed at. You wouldn’t make cancer the punch line, so why make it depression?
This is the way I see it: fans are not entitled to anything. They’re not entitled to a tour or a meet and greet because they bought an album. And when they say, ‘well, this artist shared their music with the world, they know what was going to happen’, I say you didn’t have to buy the album, you don’t have to listen to that music. The public does not dictate a celebrities’ life, and we seem to forget that those in the limelight are human too. They all have feelings and friends and family, and they deserve their rights to good health and wellbeing as much as the rest of us do.
Artists should not be stripped of their human rights because they shared their art. They didn’t have to, but they did, and because of that we get to enjoy it so we should all, at the very least, be thankful for that.
Words by Lucy Wenham