A succession of suicides of celebrities in India in the past two years has shown the burdens of a society where many feel that they must conceal their personal struggles.
Any individual suicide is in and of itself infinitely tragic, but when celebrities die by suicide, the impact collectively reverberates on a grand scale. With any suicide, there is a risk of contagion in the form of “suicide clusters.” With celebrity suicides, the spectra of contagion loom even larger.
It is a less-than-ideal path for positive change, but one that is important to foster.
The very act of suicide by successful people suggests that success and happiness are not synonymous terms but point to the presence of a paradox. History is replete with examples of successful people committing suicide. Success, fame and recognition do not create an impermeable wall around people, which cannot be permeated by distress and disease. The stigma around mental health affects them as well. The reluctance to seek help of a mental health professional when needed, is rampant in the highly educated and successful coterie.
MENTAL HEALTH NEEDS
Mental health needs of celebrities are complex, often unaddressed due to different psychological concerns such as unwillingness to give up fame, mistrust, isolation, and character-splitting. These concerns could be the reason for the delay or lack of treatment-seeking behaviour or supportive care despite being aware of the mental health problems.
Being famous leads to loss of privacy, expectations, symbolic immortality, and gratification of ego . Limited or lack of research on mental health, lifestyle, and culture of celebrities limits the opportunity to develop comprehensive strategies for the prevention of suicide among celebrities in India.
Speculatively, several causal factors could be put forward such as any pre-existing mental disorder, personality disorder, unstable personality, substance use, an unstable relationship can predispose to suicide.
The recent increase in the suicide rate among celebrities is alarming and needs immediate attention from researchers, mental health professionals, public health professionals, and policymakers, especially in India.
Stigma related to mental health, complex coping mechanisms, frustrations, unemployment, and mistrust among celebrities need to be explored and addressed. Interventions directed towards the mental health of celebrities or famous personalities will help to reduce the glamorization of suicide or mental health issues, sensitive media reporting, and epidemic of copycat suicides in the community.
Immediate action is warranted involving all the stakeholders for suicide prevention to come forward and take necessary actions to prevent it.
Mental health services and support system should come forward to address the mental health of celebrities, who are at risk. Selected prevention strategies should be considered for celebrities focusing on the early identification of suicidal risk.
The appropriate gatekeepers (family members, colleagues, directors) should be identified, trained so that they can identify the risk factors and refer them to the mental health support systems.
Central agencies like censor board, or Ministry of information and broadcasting or Bollywood Association or Indian Psychiatric Society should come forward to take the lead and coordinate the activities of other stakeholders so that harmonization could be ensured.
A periodic mental health assessment as a mandatory basis could be an option. Developing a mental health registry for celebrities, periodic mental health assessment as a mandatory basis, periodic training, and education programs focussing on mental health and suicide of celebrities, involving celebrities in awareness- building programs for the general population could important strategies.
Extensive psychological autopsy studies could be beneficial to identify the risk factors.
(Dr Naresh Purohit is Advisor- National Mental Health Programme. The views and opinion expressed in this article are those of the author)