What Your Patients are Hearing

Can celebrity stories about anxiety reduce stigma?


A public figure who chooses to share his or her private burdens can help others cope with a similar circumstance. Or, such actions might inspire feelings of annoyance and ridicule over the human foibles of someone who is rich and successful – and get airtime for something that many others struggle with alone.

Dr. Jessica Gold

Dr. Jessica Gold

Jessica Gold, MD, is with the department in psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis. As a practicing psychiatrist who treats patients for anxiety-related conditions, she says she has been both grateful and annoyed at celebrity admissions of conditions like anxiety.

“People with mental health issues are still too often stigmatized in our culture, wrongly portrayed as weak or emotional, and this deters people from seeking care. So any increased awareness of what it’s really like to live with a mental health condition is obviously beneficial and extremely needed. I should be happy that anyone – celebrity or not – is speaking up about these topics. So why do I occasionally have a similar “here we go again” reaction when a celebrity talks about dealing with anxiety?” she wrote in an article for Self magazine.

One reason for the absence of empathy can be the perception that, since celebrities’ bread-and-butter is publicity, any pronouncement that makes the entertainment section can be good for their bank accounts.

For others, celebrity stories may crush hope, instead of offering reassurance, especially when the celebrity professes to now be doing well.

Being annoyed with a celebrity proclamation is natural, according to Dr. Gold. But she advises people to think about why they are feeling that way.

“And in the back of your mind, remember that stigma attached to mental illness discourages people from seeking a diagnosis and treatment. So it’s a fantastic thing to see people with a voice and huge platform willingly open up about a mental health issue and help normalize it. This is especially the case when disclosures could uniquely target younger adults who consume media at high rates, and whose long delay to receiving treatment leads to worse outcomes or disability. Seeing a public figure disclose something so personal could save a life – or at least improve the quality of it.”

Click here to read the article.

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