Plague of anxiety and self-harm laid bare

Headshots: Purser and Reynolds are actors, while Smith (daughter of Will Smith) is a singer.

Is opening up about mental illness the best treatment? Several celebrities have courageously spoken about their struggles. But a deep divide remains over the merits of “the talking cure”.

“I was just plunged into this black hole.” Those are the words of singer Willow Smith as she spoke about her historic battles with mental illness.

Now 17 years old, she was thrust into the spotlight at the age of nine with her hit single Whip My Hair. But after this high came crushing lows: “After all of that kinda settled down and it was like a kind of lull, I was just listening to a lot of dark music. It was just so crazy.”

And, as she revealed to her mother for the first time on Monday, this depression even lead to self-harm.

Smith is one of several stars to recently open up about mental health.

This month, Stranger Things actress Shannon Purser penned an article in Teen Vogue documenting her struggles with OCD and depression. “Looking back, I wish I’d been able to reach out for help sooner,” she wrote. Purser eventually found help through therapy and medication.

Then there is movie star Ryan Reynolds. “I have anxiety, I’ve always had anxiety,” he disclosed in an interview with The New York Times.

Many believe that when celebrities talk about mental health it helps reduce the stigma for ordinary people. And the stigma of mental illness is still a massive problem in many parts of the world.

Some campaigns have attempted to fight this and get people talking more openly — such as the Heads Together movement lead by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.

A poll found that just under half of Britons have talked to others about their mental health. And of those who did, 82% found these conversations useful.

There are a range of things people can do and say to fight mental health stigma and help people to open up.

Experts suggest using phrases which separate the person from the disease, for example “someone with schizophrenia” is better than “the schizophrenic”. Words like “crazy”, “psycho” and “nutter” are also best avoided.

Comedian Ruby Wax thinks a dash of humour goes a long way too: “People are liberated by laughing at themselves,” she says.

But is talking enough?

Tell me how you feel

Sometimes that is all it takes, some argue. Credit to all of these celebrities for speaking out. By using their position to shine a light on mental health, countless people may be encouraged to seek help. What’s more, the process of talking in itself can be miraculously healing. We should all learn to open up.

Not necessarily. As author Rachel Kelly points out: “Conversations can change the direction of an entire life. But even more important is having access to proper services.” We must not be lulled into thinking celebrities can turn the tide of the mental health crisis without robust action from the government.

You Decide

  1. Is it helpful for celebrities to talk about mental health?
  2. How effective is the “talking cure”?


  1. In pairs or small groups, write a list of all the people or services that those concerned about mental health can talk to for help and advice. Do you think there is enough support available for young people? Why/why not?
  2. Read the TED link under Become An Expert — it gives some pointers on how to have productive conversations about mental health. Using it as a guide, as well as your own ideas, write down five top tips for talking about mental health.

Some People Say...

“Nothing in the affairs of men is worthy of great anxiety.”


What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
According to the Mental Health Foundation, in 2014, 19.7% of Britons aged 16 and over showed symptoms of anxiety or depression — a 1.5% increase from 2013. This percentage was slightly higher among women compared to men. Young people who are worried about mental illness have a range of services available to them, for example the advice service Childline can be reached 24/7 on 0800 1111.
What do we not know?
What treatment or service is suitable for each individual. There are a number of different types of talking treatments available, from counselling to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), but the effectiveness of each depends on the specific needs of the patient.

Word Watch

On the web series Red Table Talk, streamed over Facebook.
If you are worried about self-harm, there are many ways of getting support. See the BBC and Young Minds links under Become An Expert.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is defined as: “a common, chronic and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts and behaviours that he or she feels the urge to repeat.”
Anxiety can manifest itself in different ways, but generally it involves uncontrollable worrying about everyday things.
Heads Together
To learn more about the royal initiative see the related articles below.
A survey of 5,000 people conducted by YouGov in 2017. It found that 54% of women had discussed their mental health, compared with 37% of men. It also found those aged 18 to 24 were more likely to have these discussions than people aged 65 and over.
See the TED link under Become An Expert for more.
Rachel Kelly
She writes from a position of experience having had mental health struggles of her own. For more, follow the link under Become An Expert.

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