‘I am emotionally retarded,’ says Brad Pitt

Pitt of despair: “The avoidance of pain is a real mistake,” says the actor.

The actor has given his first interview since his messy divorce last year. In it, he speaks at length about his emotional struggles. Should we all follow his example and get therapy?

By his own admission, Brad Pitt has “hit the lottery” of life. Yet, as he relates in a sprawling new interview with GQ magazine, he is far from content.

In September, the superstar’s world turned upside down. Amid reports of alcoholism and allegations of child abuse (later dropped), his marriage to actor Angelina Jolie collapsed. The crisis prompted him to ditch the bottle and take up therapy, in a bid to confront his “weaknesses and failures”.

Reflecting on his busy life, Pitt tells GQ that he “spent a lot of time avoiding feelings”, and that he is “quite grateful” for his current period of soul-searching. “Every misstep has been a step toward epiphany, understanding, some kind of joy,” he explains. The interview is accompanied by melancholy photos of the 53-year-old posing in various US national parks.

While the photoshoot has been ridiculed on social media, Pitt’s candour has chimed with a public that is more open than ever to discussing health and emotions. In many Western countries, alcohol is dipping out of style — recent figures show that drinking in the UK is at a record low — and the notion of “clean eating” is taking hold.

Meanwhile, the debate over mental illness is gathering steam as celebrities open up about their experiences. Everyone from Lady Gaga to Prince Harry has confessed to being in therapy; technology is bringing counselling to ever more people. Politicians are now promising to treat mental health on a par with physical health.

Those who stop short of full-blown therapy are increasingly turning to mindfulness, a kind of secular meditation that can relieve depression and anxiety. Google, the NHS and the US army have introduced it into the workplace; some high schools are now teaching it. In the USA in particular, alternative forms of emotional therapy — from ayahuasca ceremonies to colouring books — are booming.

As Pitt puts it: “We’re complicated creatures.” Could we all benefit from a bit of therapy?

Mind over matter

Come off it, say some. People like Pitt and Lady Gaga have been through tough times, so it figures that they need treatment. But therapy isn’t for everyone. It can be very expensive and, if you’re not prepared for it, completely ineffective. Emotional intelligence comes from everyday life — love, loss, joy, stress — not trendy therapeutic techniques.

Nonsense, reply others. As Pitt suggests, his refusal to face his feelings for decades was a factor in his divorce. We all have emotional problems, but our lives are so busy that we tend to ignore them — until a crisis hits. We take preventive measures to keep our bodies healthy; therapy allows us to do the same with our minds. We should all get on board.

You Decide

  1. Do you feel sorry for Pitt?
  2. Do celebrities have a responsibility to speak out about their mental health issues?

Activities

  1. Without looking them up, write a definition for each of the following words: “happiness”, “contentment”, “sadness”, “depression”, “feeling”, “emotion”. Then compare yours with other people’s.
  2. Try practising ten minutes of mindfulness every day for a week. Keep a journal, noting how you feel, how easy you find it, etc.

Some People Say...

“Therapy is for the sick.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Mental health issues are common. According to the charity Mind, one in four people in the UK experience one each year. In the USA, 17.9% of all adults suffer from a mental illness, says the National Institute of Mental Health.
What do we not know?
Little is yet known about what causes mental health issues or how to treat them. It is unhelpful that far less is spent on research and treatment in this area than in physical health.
What do people believe?
The latest scientific understanding is that these issues are caused by a combination of biological factors (such as genes or infections), environmental ones (like divorce or drug-taking), and psychological ones (abuse as a child, for example). The way these factors interact depends on the person and cannot be predicted.

Word Watch

GQ
A long-running men’s lifestyle publication based in New York. The name stands for “Gentlemen’s Quarterly”.
A record low
The Office for National Statistics found that under 60% of respondents had had a drink in the past week — the lowest figure since the poll began in 2005. Among 16- to 24-year-olds, it was less than half.
Clean eating
An approach to food that emphasises cooking for oneself, using healthy, organic ingredients.
Lady Gaga
The singer was raped as a teenager and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Prince Harry
The queen’s grandson recently revealed that he turned to therapy in his late-20s, to help deal with suppressed grief over his mother’s death in 1997.
Secular
Non-religious. Mindfulness originates in Buddhist meditation; some believe that, by shedding its religious roots, the practice has lost its meaning. See The Huffington Post’s article in Become An Expert.
Ayahuasca
A hallucinogenic substance native to South America. Some clinical trials suggest it could be used to treat depression.
Colouring books
See Quartz’s article in Become An Expert.

Subjects