Another tragedy has struck Hollywood. Sawyer Sweeten, child star best known for his part alongside his twin brother and their older sister in the long running TV hit Everybody Loves Raymond, died from a suspected self-inflicted injury on April 23, 2015 while visiting family in Texas. With his acting career beginning when he was just over a year old in 1996, Sweeten went on to appear in other Hollywood productions before ending his life at the very young age of 19.
After devastating news such as this, many people will be tempted to ask why celebrities commit suicide when they appear to have it all. They have the fame and fortune that comes with such highly coveted careers. What people fail to recognize is that many actors suffer from depression, loss of identity, and an overall feeling of lack of control of their lives. Child stars suffer most of all as they have grown up in the fishbowl of stardom. In fact, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, actors are 2.8 times more likely to commit suicide than the national average. Mental illness is indiscriminate, like cancer or Alzheimer’s. It does not matter what you look like, how much you are worth, who your family is, how many friends you have, or how successful you are. It does not matter how happy and ‘together’ you seem as appearances can be deceiving. Generally speaking, happy people do not commit suicide. People suffering with mental illness, such as severe depression, do.
Mental illness is not a one-size-fits-all diagnosis as it refers to a wide range of mental health conditions including disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, depression, eating disorders and addictive behaviors. The stigma attached to mental illness often prevents people from seeking diagnosis and treatment due to pride, fear, or shame. It is important to remember that mental illness is not uncommon. Nearly one in every two people in the United States will endure depression, anxiety disorders or another mental issue at some point in life, and about one in 17 Americans is suffering from a serious mental illness right now.
Finally, most cases of mental illness are not being treated effectively. Those who seek treatment often seek the most discreet treatment option available and, as a result, fail to treat the full spectrum of the illness. Many will opt for a prescription but not for recurring or long-term, non-pharmacological therapy. Those patients end up only treating part of the symptoms, not the illness. In most cases, the illness can be comprehensively managed with a combination of medications and psychotherapy. If left untreated, though, a mental illness may get worse over time leading to suicidal thoughts and/or behaviors. When the illness takes over, rational thought is lost. Suicidal thinking does not get better on its own.
Assistance is available. If thoughts of suicide occur, seek assistance right away. You can:
- Call 911 (your local emergency number) or a suicide hotline number. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255).
- Reach out to a friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister or faith based facility in your community.
- Contact your doctor, health care provider, mental health specialist, or a mental health facility.
If someone you know shows signs of mental illness or of sudden personality changes, have an open and honest discussion with them about your concerns. Offer non-judgmental encouragement and support. In the words of Madylin Sweeten, Saywer’s sister, “I would like to encourage everyone to reach out to the ones you love. Let them have no doubt of what they mean to you.” (2015) Your voice might just be the beacon of hope they need in the midst of turmoil.