Do Celebrities Help Decrease Mental Illness Stigma?



Mariel Hemingwayby Aaron Beatty

There is an important and necessary conversation happening about mental illness in the US and around the world. We are talking about mental illness and suicide more than we have in the past, studying it more than we have in the past and, in some senses, understanding it more than we have in the past. And it is not just researchers or psychologists and psychiatrists who are talking. 

Those members of our society who garner great public interest and attention, celebrities, are opening up about their own struggles with mental illness or using their position to help shine a light on suicide, depression, bipolar disorder and many other mental health issues that impact tens of millions of Americans each year. According to the National Institute on Mental Health, 18.6% of all U.S. adults (43.7 million) suffered from a mental illness in 2012. Despite those high numbers, stigma surrounding mental illness persists. 

The good news is that there is evidence that individuals who possess more information about mental illness are less prone to stigmatizing others than individuals who are misinformed about mental illness (Corrigan PW. Penn DL. “Lessons from social psychology on discrediting psychiatric stigma.” Am Psychol. 1999; 54:765–776. [PubMed]). The more we all talk about mental illness and provide education about mental illness, the more we help facilitate a change in attitude toward those suffering with mental illness. 

Running From Crazy posterFor her part, Mariel Hemingway, who is not only an iconic Academy Award nominated actor from a celebrated family, but also an author, adventurist, eco activist, healthy lifestyle and mental health advocate, co-produced the documentary film about the Hemingway family, Running From Crazy. The film documents Hemingway’s boundless advocacy for mental health awareness, the dignity and rights of people of all circumstance and ability and her commitment to connecting those of like mind and heart. “I think that everybody has some part of my story as their story,” stated Mariel Hemingway in a recent HuffPost Live interview. “If I have the courage to open up and talk about mental illness, addiction and suicide, it can open a door for people to have a discussion about this. And the more we talk about it, the less stigma there will be.” 

The Erikson Institute for Education and Research of the Austen Riggs Center along with the Berkshire International Film Festival are sponsoring a community event on suicide, stigma and mental health featuring a screening of Running From Crazy, a talk by Mariel Hemingway and a roundtable discussion Saturday, March 28 at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, MA. For tickets: http://www.austenriggs.org/RunningFromCrazy

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