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In Depth with Kareem Shawky on celebrties’ mental sufferings

Sat, Sep. 9, 2017
CAIRO- 9 September 2017: This month the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Federation for Mental Health will be coming together to raise awareness all over the world that there are options out of pain and suffering other than suicide.

September 10 marks World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD), and looking back at a number of celebrity suicides this year that have left not only families and friends but fans too in shock, there is a focus on how audiences, teens in particular, can be affected or encouraged by celebrities choosing to end their lives. The media also plays a role with “the extensive media reporting of celebrity suicide . . . followed by an increase in suicides with a strong implication of a modeling effect. The results provide further support for the need for more restrained reporting of suicides as part of suicide prevention strategies to decrease the imitation effect,” according to a recent report titled “The Influence of Media Reporting of the Suicide of a Celebrity on Suicide Rates: A Population-Based Study.”

We have spoken with neuropsychiatrist and researcher at Cairo University’s department of psychiatry Kareem Shawky about the reasons celebrities choose to end their lives and how to spot signs of depression, considered the main motivation behind suicide.

What could be possible reasons for celebrities' mental sufferings?

It could be the paradox of success, the more successful they are, the less happy and the more anxious they become, probably because some celebrities could become workaholics and lose the balance in their lives. They become more isolated. Some try to self-medicate with alcohol and sedatives which makes things worse.

Is happiness related to success?

Success and happiness are separate experiences. Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman once said, “Success is getting what you want; happiness is wanting what you get.”
For instance, one might have the goal of becoming the best musician, but once he achieves it, he loses the excitement he felt of reaching this goal. It’s the same boring life to him, so instead of elevating his life by setting higher goals, he succumbs to recreational drugs, sex, and other means to numb the boredom or pain.

Is there a visible relationship between depression and alcoholism?

A study suggested that alcohol may play an important role in the events leading to suicide amongst individuals with no previous psychiatric history. The disinhibition produced by intoxication probably facilitates suicidal ideas and increases the likelihood of suicidal thoughts being put into action, often impulsively.

Is depression common among unemployed people?

Not true. Although the unemployed and the unskilled have higher suicide rates than those who are skilled and employed, by profession, higher suicide rates occur in policemen, musicians, dentists, insurance agents, farmers, physicians, air traffic controllers and lawyers. It could be those professions are the most stressful.

What makes a person choose to apply a violent method in taking out his/her life?

It’s a horrible decision no matter the method. Generally speaking, violent methods such as firearm suicide and hanging are more frequent among men, whereas women often choose poisoning or drowning, which are less violent.

Why is the ratio of celebrities committing suicides due to mental health problems higher in Europe and the US than the Arab world?

In his book Manual of Psychiatric Therapeutics, Richard I. Shader , professor of psychiatry at Tufts university school of medicine reported that suicide rates tend to be low for persons from families that are Roman Catholic or Muslim. A Gallup survey showed that there are lower suicide rates in more religious countries. Committing suicide is strictly forbidden in Islam, so let’s say religious values might play a role.

Is it true that celebrities’ children are more likely to suffer depression than other children?

In some cases children of celebrities try to join their parent’s career, if they fail to achieve the success they expected for themselves and felt that comparison with their parents will not be in their favor, they feel depressed and sometimes become drug addicts. As a result of their addictions, death by drug overdose becomes a common behavior for these celebrity offspring. However, those are [disparate] cases; we cannot generalize about all celebrities like that.

How can you spot signs of depression?

Feeling sad, anxious or empty for long periods of time—so much so that you cannot sleep continuously (at least six hours of uninterrupted sleep)—are all signs. When the low mood keeps you from leading a normal and active life, for example when you start not going to work, that’s when it’s time to seek medical help. Excessive sleep could occur though instead of insomnia.

Can depression be avoided?

Regular exercise has been proven to reduce stress and ward off anxiety and feelings of depression. Sharing problems with close friends relieves mental stress as well.

How can a person overcome depression?

It depends on the severity and type of depression. From my experience, the vast majority of patients respond well to antidepressants. Problems arise when patients improve but then want to stop medications immediately; psychiatrists then have [make an effort to] persuade them to remain on medication for a longer period to prevent relapse. It is the stigma of mental illness that makes depressed people reluctant to seek medical help or refuse to take their medication for the proper duration.

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