Hollywood personalities and media professionals have a way of adding joy to our lives, and for their services, we reward them with adoration (and outsized paychecks). But with that celebrity comes a certain burden of responsibility to use their public platforms for good and not ignorance -- especially when it comes to sensitive issues.
PSA to all public figures out there: Yes, that includes any thoughts on mental illness.
On this week's episode of So You Think You Can Dance, judge and producer Nigel Lythgoe made several remarks on suicide and mental illness -- comments that didn't sit well on social media for those who are tirelessly working to have encouraging conversations about these disorders.
"Anybody who's lost a friend or somebody they cared for because of the stupidity of suicide ... there's always somebody there ... to pick you up and help you," he said. "Suicide is not God's plan for our lives, and there is always somebody there, you just gotta find them."
His comments about suicide also continued on Twitter:
I will not even begin to defend my feelings toward suicide. The belief that life is not worth living is wrong. The belief that there is no one out there to help you is wrong. The defense of suicide victims is wrong. The devastation that is left behind with family and friends is wrong! I repeat taking away your pain by committing suicide is both stupid and selfish!
My last word on this, of course not all suicides can be stopped. Because a mentally ill person is incapable of judgement does not make the act of suicide any less stupid or selfish. If one person can be saved, if one life can be turned around by letting them know someone is there for them, and I know a few that have been, then that's all we can do!
This is not to say that the statements didn't come from good-hearted intentions -- Lythgoe said he recently lost two people close to him to suicide, an act that takes nearly 40,000 American lives every year. The pain loved ones feel after these events is unimaginable for anyone who hasn't experienced it. His advocacy for prevention -- and his message that suicide is not the answer -- was on point, but his delivery method was less than desirable. Using phrases like "stupid" in conjunction with the topic of mental illness doesn't shed the stigma, it perpetuates it.
Lythgoe's unfortunate wording comes from a long line of misguided commentary from public figures. A few weeks ago, Fox News anchor Shepard Smith sounded off about the death of beloved actor Robin Williams, calling him a "coward" for committing suicide. KISS frontman Gene Simmons also made insensitive remarks about mental illness recently, telling Songfacts.com in an interview that he doesn't get along with anybody who "has a dark cloud over their head and sees themselves as a victim."
Our conversation about mental illness needs to be a positive, healthy dialogue, not one laden with shame. As soon as that begins to happen, we'll be able to address these health issues more effectively. More importantly, it will encourage those suffering to get the professional help they need and deserve -- without the fear of being called "stupid."
Have a story about depression that you'd like to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or give us a call at (860) 348-3376, and you can record your story in your own words. Please be sure to include your name and phone number.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.