How Celebrities and Public Figures Play a Role in Destigmatizing Mental Health

Jake Newby

| 4 min read

Recently, public figures in politics, professional sports and other high-profile spaces have stepped away from their respective positions to address their mental health.
The stigma that surrounds mental health/behavioral health made developments like these basically nonexistent in the United States until very recently, indicating progress toward the normalization of mental health discussions in workplaces of high-public stature and workplaces in general.
These developments are also a step in the right direction for destigmatizing mental health concerns among men; according to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, more than six million men suffer from depression a year, but male depression often goes underdiagnosed.
Mental illness is extremely common in the U.S. It is estimated that more than one in five American adults live with a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).That’s roughly 60 million people. The most common mental illnesses include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, obsess-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia.

Why is mental health stigmatized?

Historically, mental health hasn’t been treated with a fraction of the sympathy that individuals show physical health. When a person is physically sick or suffers a head or body injury, we treat it with care, compassion and the utmost urgency. It’s ingrained in our society.
But the perception among people who struggle with mental illness has historically tended to be met with a negative connotation. Stigmas surrounding mental health can include:
  • Discrimination and prejudice
  • Negative associations or feelings
  • The perception that those who struggle with their mental health are “not normal”
Those who outwardly struggle are sometimes referred to as “broken” or “crazy.” These prejudices have been portrayed on our movie and television screens for generations. Negative and abrasive reactions like can make people hide their struggles. Stigmatization can very easily lead to worsened symptoms of existing mental health illness and further reduce a person’s likelihood of seeking help.

The role public figures play in destigmatizing mental health 

Engaging in an open dialogue about mental health is one of the biggest keys to destigmatizing it. Since celebrities and public figures are generally held in high regard, when they express their mental health issues it can encourage those outside of the public spotlight to do the same. Celebrities who then speak publicly about their issues and bring public awareness to them help open that dialogue, which can go a long way in normalizing and destigmatizing caring for one’s mental health. Public figures who speak out about their mental health open themselves up to prejudice and ridicule by making themselves vulnerable, but being courageous and transparent are commendable traits in a day and age where so many people suffer in silence.
Using professional sports as an example, pro athletes who suffer a broken bone or sprained ankle commonly go on their league’s “injured list,” where they spend time resting and rehabilitating their bodies until they recover. Until the past couple of years, U.S. sports leagues and athletes did not disclose mental health struggles to the public or assign players to their respective injured lists if a player stepped away to address their mental health.
But in Major League Baseball in 2023, three players have gone on the injured list with mental health issues. The societal pressure for men to always be strong suppresses the number of men who seek mental health treatment in the U.S., so one can come to a reasonable conclusion that that pressure is amplified among professional athletes, who are held to a superhuman standard of masculinity.
When pro sports organizations normalize mental health issues among their players, it helps strip away that stereotypical mindset and normalize the behavioral health of others. This applies to figures in entertainment, politics and other high-profile industries. Some celebrities seem larger than life, but they are people, too. They struggle just like us. If a fan of a certain celebrity with mental health issues is encouraged to reach out for help because their favorite athlete or actor did the same, that marks progress toward destigmatizing mental illness. 

Finding care and treatment

If you’d like to begin the process of finding a mental health professional, there is a lot to consider. You want to make sure you select someone you’re comfortable with and who can take care of your needs. On top of that, they need to be conveniently located and compatible with your insurance plan.
For Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) and Blue Care Network (BCN) members, the Find a Doctor tool is the perfect place to begin your search. You can also call the Mental Health and Substance Abuse number on the back of your member ID card to find a behavioral health provider. Learn more about self-care tips and mental health resources to lean on at this link.
Those who recognize these signs in themselves or a loved one should talk with their health care provider. Those in crisis or at risk of self-harm can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for free, confidential support 24/7.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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