Some of the most famous, talented and respected artists from the fields of film, television, music and literature … not to mention royalty … are currently sharing their own mental health diagnoses with an interested and invested public. Many more recognisable faces are encouraging an open, honest and candid conversation about anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and postpartum depression. If we consider that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, then such dialogue is crucial.
There is little doubt that audiences respond to these celebrity stories and film star narratives in a positive manner. Indeed, extant literature from the fields of media communication and film star studies make the point that celebrity advocacy in general and celebrity advocacy in relation to diseases and disorders from cervical cancer (Ashton and Feasey 2014: 237-251) to infertility (Feasey 2019: 37-86) can be useful in helping a broad and diverse range of individuals, friends and family groups to make sense of their diagnosis and seek out appropriate support. In this way, finding that audiences respond favourably to celebrity disclosures relating to postpartum depression (Adele), bipolar disorder (Carrie Fisher), depression (DeMar DeRozan), anxiety (George Ezra) and trauma (Prince Harry) is not unexpected. We might assume therefore that these well-known faces and voices are making meaningful change to our understanding of mental health. We can state with some certainty that individuals from within and beyond the celebrity arena are looking to open up a more candid dialogue about mental health and mental illness, and that this in turn will lead to less stigmatising of existing mental or neurological disorders (Serani 2012).
As one such example, mental health charities noted an increase in interest from the public since Prince Harry opened up about his difficulty to cope following the death of his mother. When famous faces and recognisable voices speak up about mental health, it ‘encourages ordinary members of the public to do the same’ (Furness 2017). More specifically, a number of callers to mental health support phone lines ‘specifically mentioned the impact the Royal family had on their decision to call, and said they felt it was important in helping to tackle stigma which sadly still surrounds mental health, which might otherwise prevent them for asking for support’ (Furness 2017). However, more research is needed to help medical practitioners and wider support services understand how and why such celebrity narratives encourage some to seek support, but not all.
Picking up on the topic of need, it is clear that funding for mental health and specific mental illness support is currently lacking. Back in 2013 ‘the government made a commitment to achieving parity of esteem between physical and mental health. That commitment was followed by a pledge of £1.25 billion for child and adolescent mental health, a national strategy for adult mental health and an investment of £1 billion to support its delivery’ (Gilburt 2018). However ‘approximately 40 per cent of mental health trusts received a reduction in their budgets in cash terms in 2012/13 – 2013/14 and 2013/14 – 2014/15, rising to almost 50 per cent in 2014/15 – 2015/16’ (Gilburt 2018). Although more recent data shows that that situation has improved (Gilburt 2018), a newly released study makes it clear that ‘a radical new Government Strategy focused on preventing, and not just treating, mental ill health in young people is required’ (University of Birmingham 2018, Burstow 2018). Although then Prime Minister, Theresa May, appointed Jackie Doyle-Price MP as the first ever minister for mental health back in October 2018, on World Mental Health Day, we find that ‘an additional £1.77bn funding and 23,800 staff are needed to plug the current treatment gap’ for those diagnosed with mental or neurological disorders (University of Birmingham 2018, Burstow 2018). My point here is that talk is cheap, however impressive the celebrity pay-scale, while prevention and treatment are effective yet expensive. Although we are starting to talk about mental health and mental illness, talking in itself is not going to help individuals. Candid celebrity confessionals do not amount to consultant-led mental health services (NHS 2019).
Ashton, D and Feasey, R (2014) 'This is Not How Cancer Looks: Celebrity Diagnosis and Death in the Tabloid Media’ Journalism: Theory, Practice and Criticism - Celebrity News. Online First, 15:2. 237-251.
Burstow, P., Newbigging, K., Tew, J., and Costello, B., 2018. Investing in a Resilient Generation: Keys to a Mentally Prosperous Nation. Birmingham: University of Birmingham. Available at: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/Documents/research/policycommission/Investing-in-a-Resilient-Generation-report.pdf
Furness, Hannah (2017) ‘Charities Hail the Prince Harry Effect’ The Telegraph. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/04/22/charities-hail-prince-harry-effect/
Gilburt, Helen (2018) ‘Funding and Staffing of NHS Mental Health Providers: Still Waiting for Parity’ TheKingsFund, The Kings Fund. Available at: https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/funding-staffing-mental-health-providers
Gregory, Andy (2019) ‘More Than 120,000 NHS Patients Kept on ‘Hidden Waiting Lists’ for Mental Health Appointments’ The Independent. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/nhs-mental-health-treatment-therapy-waiting-list-appointment-a9079541.html
NHS (2019) ‘How to Access Mental Health Services’ NHS. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/nhs-services/mental-health-services/how-to-access-mental-health-services/
Roberts, Kayleigh (2018). 39 Celebrities Who Have Opened Up About Mental Health: Proof that anxiety and depression can affect anyone. BAZAAR. Available at: https://www.harpersbazaar.com/celebrity/latest/g15159447/celebrities-depression-anxiety-mental-health/
Serani, Deborah (2010). ‘On the "Celebrity Coming Out" of Mental Illness: Why High Profile People Reduce Stigma’. Psychology Today. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/two-takes-depression/201202/the-celebrity-coming-out-mental-illness
University of Birmingham (2018) ‘Radical New Preventative Approach Needed as Figures Reveal £1.77bn Mental Health Treatment Gap for Young People’ University of Birmingham. Available at: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/news/latest/2018/07/radical-preventative-mental-health-children.aspx