Tackling stigma: Famous men who have spoken out about their mental health struggles

by Sarah Graham
Thursday 04 December 2014
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In November we looked at the stigma around men seeking help for mental health conditions, as well as revealing that more men have come forward for therapy with RSCPP therapists in the last 12 months.

An important part of tackling stigma has undoubtedly been the increasing number of men in the public eye speaking out about their own struggles with mental health conditions - from actors to sports stars, comedians to musicians, famous men are leading the way for men to open up about their struggles. We take a look at some of the most notable of them.

 

Depression

Hollywood actor and comedian Jim Carrey:

I was on Prozac for a long time. It may have helped me out of a jam for a little bit, but people stay on it forever. I had to get off at a certain point because I realised that, you know, everything's just OK. There are peaks, there are valleys. But they're all kind of carved and smoothed out, and it feels like a low level of despair you live in. Where you're not getting any answers, but you're living OK, and you can smile at the office. But it's a low level of despair.

England cricketer Andrew 'Freddie' Flintoff:

I was captain of England and financially successful. Yet instead of walking out confidently to face Australia in one of the world's biggest sporting events, I didn't want to get out of bed, never mind face people. I didn't understand what was happening to me. I knew when I got back to my room I couldn't shut off, which is why I started having a drink. It got to the stage where I was probably drinking more than I should. All I wanted was for the doctor to tell me what was wrong but no one suggested it was depression. There's a certain sense of shame when I remember sitting in the dressing room after winning a one-day international in the West Indies. The lads were celebrating and I didn't want to be a part of it, I didn't want to do anything but sit on my own in the corner.

There are so many going through this who need to know it's just an illness. Not bad, mad, crazy or weak, just ill.

Broadcaster and retired footballer Stan Collymore:

I sleep 18 hours a day, so i don't see sunlight over sometime a period of a week (my worst ever bout, I spent a month in bed), which I'm sure a doctor then would tell me makes the body shut down even further. My personal world grows smaller, I detach from friends and family, partly out of self preservation, partly not wanting them to see the man bounding around days ago, now looks visibly older, weaker and pathetic. I eat less, my personal space gets smaller, none of the vain grooming of days before, as bathing, washing, and even going to the loo seem almost impossible. So it's me, pyjamas, bed and increasingly despairing thoughts of how long this one will last. There are so many going through this that need to know it's just an illness. Not bad, mad, crazy or weak, just ill, and that with this particular illness, for its sufferers, for family and friends who are there but feel they can't help, you can! Patience, time, kindness and support. That's all we need.

English boxer and boxing promoter Ricky Hatton:

I see a psychiatrist once a month. It took me so long to go to someone and say, ‘my head's in bits. I feel depressed. I want to kill myself'. It was nearly too late for me. I think if more people who suffer from depression just swallow their pride and say, 'Listen, I need help. Someone give me a hug. Someone talk to me,' it would help. I'm not scared of admitting that now because when I did finally realise that I had to admit it, I think that's why I'm still here. Someone who is considered, as a fighter, as someone who never took a backward step, never backed down from any opponent, to turn around and be crying every night to his friends and being in the house wanting to slit his wrists.

I think if more people who suffer from depression just swallow their pride and say, 'Listen, I need help. Someone give me a hug. Someone talk to me,' it would help.

Former Director of Communications to prime minister Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell:

I had a breakdown in the mid 80s and as a result of that I realised that I get depression from time to time. What I would say is that in general and in theory I'm very very good at being open. In practice, at times, if I am feeling just a bit kind of down and fed up with life I'm probably not but I'm conscious of the need to be. And therefore sometimes that will trigger me at the right moment to hopefully say and do the right thing. I think it's a very very difficult area this because all I can say is it's always benefitted me to be open. I can't in all honesty say to everybody in all of their different circumstances "It will benefit you to be open." Because the truth is I'm afraid because of the stigma, because of the taboo, because of the discrimination that does sometimes exist, it could be worse for some people. And I think if all of us could somehow make the leap together to be more open then all of us the ill and the non ill would be better off. 

 

Bipolar disorder

English musician Adam Ant:

They call it bipolar disorder, that's the modern term. It only means up and down, it used to be manic depression, black dog, whatever. It's a subject surrounded by a lot of ignorance and taboo. Where I come from, there's the poor house – and worse than that is the mad house. You should never feel ashamed of it, but you do. A lot of the time you can't take these problems even to close family because you fear that you'll alienate them. So anyone in the public eye that comes forward and discusses it, I think it helps.

You should never feel ashamed of it, but you do. So anyone in the public eye that comes forward and discusses it, I think it helps.

Former English boxer and heavyweight champion Frank Bruno:

 I don't know what goes on when you're manic. The chemicals in your body make you react differently. Sometimes I don't sleep. I haven't been manic for ages. I don't know how to explain it. Sometimes when you get a high, you're rushing and tripping over yourself - your brain is speeding more than it should be and you may lose control. I do accept that I've got bipolar for the rest of my life.

Comedian, actor, writer and activist Stephen Fry:

I am the victim of my own moods, more than most people are perhaps, in as much as I have a condition which requires me to take medication so that I don't get either too hyper or too depressed to the point of suicide.

 

 

Anxiety disorders

British singer and musician James Arthur, who won The X Factor in 2012:

 I used to have extremely bad anxiety but it's much less apparent these days. I'm more positive about life and I think when you're in a good place you make the best music. It's been the biggest fight of my life - I've come up against it with anxiety and depression but I'm come out of it and on the other side, and I'm good...I'm really really happy. I didn't know the magnitude of that disease until it really set in for me, and people who have it don't know how to talk about it, or feel afraid to talk about it. And as soon as I did, it changed completely. I opened up to a few people and I'm now very happy with the person I am today.

I didn't know the magnitude of that disease until it really set in for me, and people who have it don't know how to talk about it, or feel afraid to talk about it. And as soon as I did, it changed completely.

American rapper Eminem:

I think my OCD is getting worse. It's self-diagnosed. Once I got sober I started noticing s**t about myself. Like running on the treadmill. If I had it in my mind that I needed to burn 500 calories, I hit that exact number. And with my music, I can tweak it forever to get it right, making changes no one else would even notice. But I don't know if it was always there and it was just repressed with drugs.

Retired English footballer David Beckham:

 I've got this obsessive compulsive disorder where I have to have everything in a straight line or everything has to be in pairs. I'll put my Pepsi cans in the fridge and if there's one too many then I'll put it in another cupboard somewhere. I'll go into a hotel room and before I can relax, I have to move all the leaflets and all the books and put them in a drawer. Everything has to be perfect.

 

 

Eating disorders

TV presenter and fashion consultant Gok Wan:

 Anorexia is with you for ever, but you do develop the tools to combat it. You have to make a decision about whether you want to suffer from it or not. It depends on how strongly you can take control of the disease, how active you'll let it be. And I think that over the years, fingers crossed, I've got it. I'm sure there will be moments of darkness again in the future, you know, you go through break-ups and bad times, but hopefully now I understand it enough. There is a way out of it and I realise that now.

There is a way out of [anorexia] and I realise that now.

 

Substance dependence

Singer-songwriter Sir Elton John:

 I'm not one of those people who could just do a line. I would have to do the gram of coke and then send out for more. The more I stayed up, the more I didn't eat. Then the more I went to bed and the more I ate, then I threw it up. It became a vicious circle of drugs, alcohol, marijuana, bulimia.

 

Former astronaut, and second person to walk on the moon, Buzz Aldrin:

From the pinnacle of Apollo, my greatest challenge became the human one — overcoming alcoholism and living beyond depression — a challenge that required more courage and determination than going to the moon.

 

Actor and comedian, the late Robin Williams, who sadly lost his battle with depression earlier this year:

The demons are still there. The little voice saying, 'You're garbage, you're nothing, you hear me, yeah'…he's still there, believe me. And then that voice — I call it the ‘lower power' — goes, ‘Hey. Just a taste. Just one.' I drank it, and there was that brief moment of ‘Oh, I'm OK!', but it escalated so quickly. Within a week I was buying so many bottles I sounded like a wind chime walking down the street.

 Overcoming alcoholism and living beyond depression [was] a challenge that required more courage and determination than going to the moon. 

 

All celebrity images via Wikimedia Commons or Twitter


Finding support


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Updated 04 December 2014