Aug 20, 2013

Another celebrity lost to suicide

I learned of another celebrity who committed suicide today, a young African American man whose show I have been watching. I always wonder if a friend or co-worker or relative had an opportunity to ask the kind of questions that might have interrupted what was happening.

There is, of course no blame for the family or friends. We humans can be terrible at confronting trouble. I just came across a list the author Mary Pipher compiled of things people do to avoid dealing with the trouble that lies right in front of our face.
The Ways Humans Defend Themselves From Too Much Reality

1. We deny reality entirely.
2. We accept some aspect of reality but deny other equally critical aspects.
3. We minimize or normalize.
4. We overemphasize our lack of power.
5. We deny our emotional investment in reality.
6. We compartmentalize.
7. We feign apathy.
8. We kill the messenger.

Perhaps this actor’s trouble was just Too Much Reality for friends and family. And besides, under the best of circumstances it’s seldom easy to see suicide risk factors piling up in another person’s life. Suicide signals and the right follow-up questions are not well known.

Imagine how hard it is for a person to admit that they need help. For one thing, the person in trouble is likely to be activating the same eight pathways to reality denial as everyone around them.

And then there is the stigma  factor. Many people find mental health concerns shameful. Churches don’t handle it well. The African American community does not handle it well.
And the celebrity community?

The path to recovery is tough for anyone, let alone a person in the public eye. We pursue and persecute celebrities with problems. I watch my share of televised trials and reality TV profiles of celebrities emerging from rehab. Even the best of these shows are fully capable of treating troubled people with scorn. I can imagine the apprehension building up for a person with tough symptoms, and can sympathize with the reluctance to seek help.

I believe we need more ordinary community support for people experiencing depression and other mental health concerns. People from every walk of life have successfully confronted these problems. We do see some celebrities emerging to tell their stories. I have particular admiration for Demi Lovato and Lady Gaga, who both seem eager to be good examples for their fans and for the public at large.

But celebrity examples go only so far. Depression and disappointment are routine in our world.  We need more ordinary people to step up and reveal how they have handled their own difficulties. We don't need some sort of pageant of people with labels on their sweatshirts. We need people who are willing to hang out and say "This is what worked for me."

We also need to see more sympathy and less scorn from those who host shows highlighting celebrities with problems. There’s plenty of legitimate news value in showing How People Confront Too Much Reality and Manage to Pull Through. 


By the way, here are four questions anyone can use to check in on a person and see if they are okay. If the questions sound awkward, rephrase them so they work for you.

1. What have you accomplished since the last time we met?
2. What are you facing?
3. Who are your allies?
4. What is your plan?

If,  after hearing their answers to these questions, you feel a gut-level worry, follow up with the following four questions – the ones most likely to uncover a suicide plan. Ask these questions directly.

1. In the past few weeks, have you felt that you or your family would be better off if you were dead?
2. In the past few weeks, have you wished you were dead?
3. In the past week, have you been having thoughts about killing yourself?
4. Have you ever tried to kill yourself?

If there is a Yes answer to any of these last four questions, don't leave the person alone. Call 911 or the person's doctor, or the national suicide hotline  1-800-273-8255.


Mary Pipher (2013). The Green Boar: Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture.
Screening for teen suicide: The four questions to ask at risk youth. (n.d.). Retrieved August 20, 2013, from

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