Some, but not nearly enough has been written about entrepreneurs & celebrities and their battles with mental health. Loneliness and depression continue to occur within the ranks of both groups at an increasing rate and although failure (or fear of failure or a drop from superstar ranks) may be a driving force, it’s often not the sole deciding factor.
Is it the quest for perfection? Is it a blinding passion that nothing else is visible? Or a control issue where no one can do it better, so it’s dealt with alone?
Michael Dermer has written a great book, The Lonely Entrepreneur and has developed a membership site of the same name that is a great resource for entrepreneurs. Strategic Coach has developed a great program for entrepreneurs. There are others, as well.
But are current efforts enough to slow down the alarming rate of suicide among entrepreneurs – and often more in the spotlight than entrepreneurs, celebrities? As successful as they were, what were the deciding factors leading to the suicides of chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade?
The deaths of Bourdain and Spade by suicide have thrown the spotlight on celebrities and depression. Instead of bringing them happiness and freedom, for many, being sought-after, rich and at the top of their game leads to an identity crisis and ruminations on their self-worth.
And now, Naomi Judd, one-half of the iconic country music duo The Judds, reportedly died by suicide after years of struggling with mental illness.
This is a topic that must be brought front and center as we continue to grow as an entrepreneurial society with approximately 60% of the labor force in some type of self-sustaining endeavor whether it’d be as freelancers, sole practitioners, professional service providers, contractors, solopreneurs, and increasingly, musicians, artists, and authors.
Why is suicide more common among entrepreneurs, celebrities and creatives?
Noted Bollywood actor and television star Sushant Singh Rajput committed suicide a couple of years ago. His demise came as a shock to many as it was the fourth death of a famous personality from the Hindi film industry to pass away within months of each other.
Suicide is not a new issue, especially not in celebrity circles. These tragic deaths are also not limited by lines of work, ranging from boxers, designers, politicians and writers to actors, musicians and yes, entrepreneurs. What about influencers that have achieved celebrity status along with becoming rising stars in this relatively new class of entrepreneurs?
There was a string of influencer suicides in 2021. All unfortunate and tragic occurrences that took young lives, they left entire fan communities in mourning for their favorite stars who had secured places as standing icons of inspiration across fields, from beauty to travel to farming to sports. But what often goes ignored when reviewing these moments of tragedy is the kind of impact the internet is having on our mental health, every single day.
It isn’t just online celebrities or creators partaking in influencer cultures who are burdened with the impossible expectations and virtual validation that the internet has become the one-stop destination for. Sadly, it can happen, and is happening, to many of us plugged into social media.
There is no conclusive line on whether all these influencer suicides came about as a result of social media impinging on mental health. But there is no doubt about the fact that a direct or indirect correlation between our use (or abuse) of the internet and offline consequences.
So, why do wealthy people kill themselves? Don’t they have it all?
The reality we often forget, however, is that celebrities are human beings, just like us. “We only see one version – one of glamour, fame and fortune,” explains Nance Roy, Ed.D, Chief Clinical Officer at The Jed Foundation. They may struggle with relationships, finances and illness. Adds Dr. Roy: “Celebrities may feel more pressure to perform, to be perfect and to keep up their image for fans, often making it more difficult for them to reach out for help.” Another critical point: a person rarely takes his or her own life because of just one reason. “Suicide is complex, and we often don’t know all the factors involved.”
Bullying, even of celebrities and other notable individuals is certainly a contributing factor as it is for our younger generations. In fact, the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and 2nd among people aged 10 to 34 (a person dies every 11 minutes), suicide was identified by the National Institute of Mental Health as a major public health concern. Suicide rates increased 35% from 1999 to 2018, briefly declining in 2019. However, reports of depression and anxiety – risk factors for suicide – had increased during the pandemic.
Discussing Mental Health Issues
We need to reduce the stigma faced by people experiencing a mental illness. How? As Martin mentioned, we need to talk about it. Stigma remains a major barrier to treatment and care. Dr. Fink agrees: “How do we grieve and process except by speaking and sharing with others?” When people die of cancer, their illness is almost always part the public conversation. From his Haitian roots, Dr. Arty provides a global perspective: “As a world community, we need to be bold and unashamed in discussing this sensitive and painful topic. The discussion itself may save a life.”
Dispelling myths is also key. A common myth? “Asking someone if they are suicidal will not increase the risk that they will die by suicide,” clarifies Dr. Roy. Inquiring about potential self-harm in a compassionate way may instead provide an opportunity for the person to express their feelings and reach out for help.
Proclamation from The White House on National Mental Health Awareness Month
Each May we raise awareness about the importance of mental health and its impact on the well-being of all Americans, including children, adults, families, and communities across our Nation. We also give thanks to the dedicated mental health providers whose service and support improve the lives of so many Americans. We stand in solidarity with those who are experiencing mental health conditions, renewing our commitment to providing them with the support they need and deserve.
Even before the pandemic, millions of Americans were experiencing stress, trauma, anxiety, and heightened levels of depression. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated those conditions, creating an unprecedented mental health crisis across our country. Communities of color, frontline workers, health care workers, and individuals with eating disorders have been disproportionately impacted, and the rate of depression across the country has more than tripled compared to rates in 2019.
‘Why’ is a question that is always asked by those left behind or hurt by these suicides – the answer or answers would never make sense to someone who loves life. As such, I look forward to thoughts on this with hope the discussion continues. Thank you!
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273- TALK (8255). It’s free, confidential and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.