Tears and confusion

I cried. I was upset. I felt confused. And I could not stop thinking about the ignorance that seems to be ruling our world these days.

In the past few months I have seen three different movies that show the lives of celebrities (all of them in the music industry) and their dependence on various substances, all including alcohol. Two of the movies are documentaries. One is a fictional story. Avicii, Whitney and A Star Is Born. All movies end with a heartbreaking death.

An exploitative system

All three movies depict the struggle of celebrities dealing with and really struggling with their unconventional lives, with the pressure of the show business and with their own “demons”. And all three movies show one more thing – the help these people did NOT receive, even though they clearly wanted it, needed it and where open for it. The movies depict how the success of the next tour was more important for too many people around the celebrities than the health and wellbeing of the artists. They show how unkind and inconsiderate humans can be in the relentless pursuit of some more profit so they can buy yet another villa to the detriment of someone’s else health and in these cases eventually even sacrificing the artists’ lives.

Their use of alcohol and other drugs is an unmistakable (or so it should be) call for help. It is rarely just recklessness and abundance. It is the emptiness that overwhelms them. It is anxiety. Depression. It is all their troubled childhood memories, broken relationships, low self-esteem and the fact they have no time to deal with these while they are living seemingly great lives that everyone else would dream of. The movies show in all three stories how time and space is sorely lacking to be vulnerable, reflective, and introspective and how the pressure not to be allowed to make mistakes and learn from them is seriously hurting them.

For me it was just heartbreaking to watch the documentary about Avicii and witness the lie he was living in trying to convince himself he liked it. What he liked was making music. Sitting in a studio, with other artists, finding that tone he knew was there. He just loved music. He did not like the crowds. He did not like the madness. It was making him exhausted but he would not understand it. He was using alcohol, because everyone else was and he thought that’s what he had to do to live the standard life of one of the most popular DJs. All that diversion from who he really was, kept making him sick. Disoriented in his own life. And finally disillusioned, willing to leave not only that life but life in general.

Listening to artists shows us the truth

The documentary contains so many statements coming from Avicii himself, clearly expressing that he lost any meaning in what he was doing. Private jet, endless tours, hysteric fans – a young person with a very deep soul could simply not identify with it and every attempt has taken a piece of his soul.
The lyrics from one of the songs in the movie A Star Is Born says it all. And it is applicable not only to the life of a celebrity.

Tell me somethin’ girl
Are you happy in this modern world?
Or do you need more?
Is there somethin’ else you’re searchin’ for?

I’m falling
In all the good times I find myself longin’ for change
And in the bad times I fear myself

Tell me something boy
Aren’t you tired tryin’ to fill that void?
Or do you need more?
Ain’t it hard keeping it so hardcore?

I’m falling
In all the good times I find myself longing for change
And in the bad times I fear myself

I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in
I’ll never meet the ground
Crash through the surface, where they can’t hurt us
We’re far from the shallow now”

World in mental health crisis of monumental suffering

Mental health disorders are on the rise in every country in the world and could cost the global economy up to $16 trillion between 2010 and 2030; 13.5 million lives could be saved every year if the collective failure to respond to mental ill-health would be properly, comprehensively addressed. There are associations of alcohol use and alcohol use disorders with almost every mental disorder, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicide. People suffering from this combination need even more health care assistance and understanding and supportive environments. What makes me feel puzzled is our collective ignorance to this issue and the attitude our society perpatuates when it comes to alcohol and its role in people’s lives.

We literally pressure each other to use alcohol without knowing what the reaction to it might be and ignoring the consequences. We make jokes about those who do not use alcohol. We doubt people who refuse to take it. And we encourage them to try. We do it daily for whatever possible occasion. We glamorize and worship it.

The lack of reflection is alarming

To me, it is obvious. We do not care. We exploit. In the name of fun. Entertainment. Even friendship. The lack of reflection in this area is alarming and harmful and it needs to change. We are talking about removing the stigma around (alcohol) addiction; we are talking about removing stigma about mental health problems, including substance use disorders but removing the stigma is impossible in this alcohol norm that glorifies the substance and completely ignores the harms of all the promotions, ill-concieved jokes, advertisments and endorsements.

In 2016, Lady Gaga shared an anecdote of Elton John advising her to get sober, words she took very seriously. In 2018, while promoting a movie that is about mental health and substance use, and while discussing an alleged alcohol-fueled rape attempt, Mr. Colbert and Lady Gaga are making alcohol part of that segment. I’m puzzled.

We need to come to terms with this massive cognitive dissonance (alcohol is decimating our communities and yet we glorify and worship it and pressure people into using it). We need to open our eyes to the fact that the current alcohol norm in our societies and the environments we’ve created in the sports, entertainment, music industries etc. (the list is long) are harmful and are contributing in a very real way to the mental health crisis we actually want to solve.
I think we must be honest. It’s convenient to refer to an individual’s “demons” when talking about their mental ill-health, including substance use problems. It’s convenient because it allows us to continue to ignore the collective and social dimension of every person’s mental disorders.

We need to stop glorifying alcohol use. Collectively. Only then can we start creating a world where mental health problems are taken seriously and addressed appropriately, comprehensively and compassionately.

For further exploring the topic:

The Lancet Commission on global mental health and sustainable development
A decade on from the 2007 Lancet Series on global mental health, which sought to transform the way policy makers thought about global health, a Lancet Commission aims to seize the opportunity offered by the Sustainable Development Goals to consider future directions for global mental health. The Commission proposes that the global mental agenda should be expanded from a focus on reducing the treatment gap to improving the mental health of whole populations and reducing the global burden of mental disorders by addressing gaps in prevention and quality of care. The Commission outlines a blueprint for action to promote mental wellbeing, prevent mental health problems, and enable recovery from mental disorders.

Avicii: True Story
Swedish documentary, 2017

Whitney (2018)

A Star Is Born (2018)
Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper Movie, © 2018 – Warner

Also published on Medium.