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Celebrity Roles in Mental Health, Awareness Campaigns and Social Change

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Kendall Jenner – Pepsi Commercial

I’ve always found celebrity culture fascinating. The idea that certain people in the world become so wealthy, well-known and influential just because they portray a character in a TV show, or movie, or play music or a sport well seems so bizarre to me.

Of course, these days people don’t even need to be talented in the traditional sense to become famous. In the last few years we’ve seen the rise of the reality TV star – from the wealthy socialites to the ordinary, everyday Kiwis on cooking shows and dating allegedly eligible bachelors – it seems anyone can find their fifteen minutes of fame.

There has been plenty of discussions both online and off about the negative influence of celebrity culture. At times it almost feels like there is an unhealthy obsession with celebrity and fame. Certainly social media, particularly image-focused sites like Instagram, play a central role in the glorification of super-skinny, hyper-sexualised celebrities with impossible body proportions. This undoubtedly has had an influence on the rise of depression, anxiety and eating disorders – particularly amongst young people.

Although it is true, celebrities can also play a powerful role in social change. A great example of this is the support of celebrities in increasing awareness in the area of mental health in New Zealand and internationally too. Almost everyone is aware now of John Kirwin “coming out” about his depression, as well as the Like Minds Like Mine campaign.

Mike King, Denise L’Estrange Corbett, Ian Mune, Polly Gillespie and our very own Philip Patston have all spoken publicly about their experience of common mental health issues like anxiety, depression and addiction – and there are of course many, many more. While I think we still have a long way to go, celebrities have truly led the charge in increasing the awareness and conversation around mental health in New Zealand.

I’m not even a person who engages with a lot of traditional media. I deliberately don’t read or watch much news, as it’s usually relatively depressing stuff.  My work involves a certain degree of emotional input, so I try to cultivate a more positive and restorative environment in my personal time.  I don’t even watch a lot of television in general for the same reason. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person in New Zealand that hasn’t seen Game of Thrones.

But, I must admit that I do find the rise of non-traditional media interesting. It seems like anyone with a laptop, a camera and a social media account can cultivate a massive following which could garner a considerable amount of social influence.

However, I believe celebrity culture like social media is neither a good nor a bad thing inherently. Celebrities can play a role in shaping and creating our social values, but I often think they are more of a symptom than the root of the problem itself.  Those who promote certain body types and lifestyles only do so because it gets them more fans and fame.  We have a choice in creating a demand for the type of media we want to consume.

Celebrities who choose to promote a certain social cause may lead the way in creating new conversations. Perhaps it’s less about the celebrity voice and more about tapping into an existing desire for these new discourses – I’m not sure.

So what do you think?  Is celebrity culture a good thing, a bad thing, or somewhere in between?

Barbara has a Masters in Health Science and is a registered Counselling Psychologist with the New Zealand Psychologists Board. She is also a full member of the New Zealand Psychological Society and the Institute of Counselling Psychology. She currently works as therapist within a specialist public health service, supporting clients with both mental health and substance use concerns. She is also the part time content manager for DPSN, where she blogs regularly about issues of diversity across all areas of society, but particularly in relation to mental health and addictions

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Have You Heard the “Suicide Prevention Anthem 1-800-273-8255”

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MTV – VMAs

National Suicide Prevention Month begins on September 1st, and MTV officially kicked off the awareness month with a performance of “1-800-273-8255” by Logic along with Khalid and Alessia Cara at the VMAs. The song’s title just happens to be the number to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, and the performance also included a group of suicide attempt survivors who came on stage wearing shirts with the number to the suicide helpline.

The song begins from the perspective of someone who wants to die and feels there is no one there to care about what happens to them. The opening hook for the song states, “I don’t want to be alive, I just want to die today, I just want to die.” Some may take an issue with the beginning of the song, but it can not be understated the importance of identifying those feelings in order to seek help.

A recent study which included 32 children’s hospital across the United States revealed an alarming increase in self-harm and suicidality in children and teens ranges from ages 5 to 17 over the past decade. Also, the School of Social Work and Social Care at the University of Birmingham released a recent study stating, “Children and young people under-25 who become victims of cyberbullying are more than twice as likely to enact self-harm and attempt suicide than non-victims.”

The second hook starts with “I want you to be alive, You don’t gotta die today, You don’t gotta die.” The song moves from a place of darkness to a place of support. When someone expresses suicidal thoughts, it is critical to not dismiss their feelings or minimize the weight of the issues preventing them from wanting to live. The Center for Disease control list death by suicide as the number 1 cause of death in the 15-19 age group. According to the National Data on Campus Suicides, “1 in 12 college students have written down a suicide plan as a result of stresses related to school, work, relationships, social life, and still developing as a young adult.”

John Draper, Director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, in an interview talked about the impact the song is already having. Draper said: “The impact has been pretty extraordinary. On the day the song was released, we had the second-highest call volume in the history of our service. Overall, calls to the hotline are up roughly 33% from this time last year.” via CNN

“I finally want to be alive, I don’t want to die today, I don’t want to die” are the lyrics and the tone in which the songs end. Then, it leads into an incredibly woke statement by Logic, and here is a sample:

“I am here to fight for your equality because I believe that we are all born equal, but we are not treated equally at that is why we must fight!” – Logic VMAs

The trend for suicide deaths is on an upward climb. A 2015 study by the Center for Disease Control state there were twice as many suicides than homicides in the United States. It’s time we end the stigma and myths surrounding suicide attempt survivors “doing it for the attention.” Suicidal thoughts may be an ongoing struggle instead of a one-off event to prevent. In this case, we need to arm loved ones and at risk individuals with information as well as tools and resource to manage their mental health status.

Suicide Warning Signs

Another useful resource is the Crisis Text Line in which users can send a text to a trained counselor and typically receive a response within 5 minutes. Texters can begin by texting “START to 741741” to get connected.

Mental Health providers and practitioners are always looking for ways to connect and reach those most at risk for suicidal and self-harming behaviors, and pop culture often has a direct connection to those who are the most vulnerable. Unfortunately, a recent study identified a link between 13 Reasons Why and suicidal thoughts in which it found “queries about suicide and how to commit suicide spiked in the show’s wake.”

However, unlike Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why“, this song is already showing that it will have the opposite effect by increasing queries and online searches about the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. If you have not seen this powerful VMA performance, I urge you to check it out.

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What “Bachelor in Paradise” Can Teach Us About Working With Young Black Men

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A young Black man sitting on a couch, talking to a TV show host

We need to look to the history of Black men in the United States in order to understand the seriousness of what happened to DeMario Jackson.

This season, the “Bachelor” franchise has taken on the topic of race relations in a fairly head-on fashion for mainstream television. For years, the series has been (aptly) criticized for featuring primarily White contestants.

After a season in which a Black woman was cast for the first time as the “Bachelorette,” the franchise’s summer follow-up series, “Bachelor in Paradise,” included several Black men and women in search of love. But let’s hone in on the story one man in particular, Demario Jackson.

Mr. Jackson, a Black man, joined the Mexico-based “Bachelor in Paradise” cast in hopes of finding a partner. As the television show is known for its sexual antics and hookup culture, it was no surprise when Mr. Jackson quickly became involved with Corinne Olympios, a White woman. The two met, flirted and over the course of a day of drinking, became sexually intimate.

All of this took place in public, with cameras rolling and with cast-mates walking by from time to time. The day after this incident, producers stopped the show as a third party had filed a complaint about Mr. Jackson’s behavior with Ms. Olympios vis-à-vis alcohol consumption and consent to sexual activities.

Ms. Olympios claimed that she did not remember any of the night due to her heavy drinking, but later, for a time, claimed that she was a victim of sexual assault (and had to endure the pain of “slut shaming” as well). Of the event, Mr. Jackson has stated “It was 100-percent consensual. She hopped in my arms, she pulled me into the pool…I think people wanted it to be something different. They wanted the angry Black guy and this little, innocent White girl. But it wasn’t.”

In the end, an external investigation (paid for by Warner Brothers) determined that no wrongdoing took place, and Mr. Jackson’s name was cleared. Unfortunately, this did not occur before the press reported on the incident in some very racially charged and unfair ways – but ways that are not unfamiliar to the Black community. So egregious was the coverage, that at least two of the White female contestants from “Bachelor in Paradise” decided to step up and defend Mr. Jackson’s honor, a refreshing change.

One of the silver linings of Mr. Jackson’s suffering is that our society has the opportunity to revisit longstanding stereotypes about the aggressiveness and/or sexuality of young Black men, especially as it relates to White women.

Helping professionals need to know that our country has a long and shameful history of portraying young Black men as sexual predators and/or perpetrators. Starting in the late 1900s, our country saw a rise racial tension that correlated with the number of lynchings of Black men.

In fact, between 1882 and 1968, there were 4,743 reported lynchings, 72.7 percent of which involved Black men. It is widely understood that these race-based lynchings were instigated by White people who felt the need to protect White women from Black men. This presumption has followed us to the present day, where many people believe that Black men rape White women more than White men do, something that has been shown to be false.

We must remember that the young Black men that we work with as social workers live with the spectre of history, and are often warned about interacting with White women during “the talk” with their parents. That is, the talk about what it is to live as a young Black man in the United States in an age where racism is alive and well.

Perhaps a father would tell the tale of Florida’s Rosewood massacre, in which many Black men died as a result of a White woman claiming that a Black man had assaulted her. Or perhaps a Black father may tell his son the story of 14 year-old Emmett Till, a young Black man accused of whistling at and making physical advances to a White woman in a candy store. Mr. Till was murdered as a result of his alleged actions – even though decades later, his accuser has admitted to making up the most damning part of her court testimony. The media treatment of DeMario Jackson felt no different to me than what Emmett Till faced.

So, how can we act on this as helping professionals working with young Black men? We are tasked with seeking social justice, but in the case of young Black men, we must also look inside ourselves for ways to promote racial justice. We must challenge ourselves to be aware of damaging stereotypes that may be held about young Black clients.

As helping professionals, we must be committed to reflective practice and be on the lookout for these stereotypes within ourselves as well as among others involved with the clients we work with. We must work to prevent such stereotypes from impacting the lives of the young Black men in schools, universities, community organizations and both the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

We need to do this anti-racism work as the social work profession has been accused of failing Black men many times before. For example, Dr. Waldo Johnson, Jr. addresses this failure in his book Social work with African American males: Health, mental health and social policy. In this text,

Dr. Johnson talks about how Black men suffer from being stereotyped as reckless (at best) and characterized as having a lifelong disregard for or commitment to society in general. While most Black men do not fit into this stereotype, it persists nonetheless, often as a result of media images.

In the post-Charlottesville era, it is vital for social workers – especially White social workers – to take a stand against the stereotyping of young Black men. This is especially important work to engage in given what we know about how White social workers may hold negative racial biases as a result of living in a society defined by White supremacy. It is time to stand up for racial justice in all of the settings we work in, let’s let DeMario Jackson’s ordeal make a difference for young Black men in the United States.

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Need to Have Some Fun: How to Throw a Perfect Game of Thrones Party

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Even though Winter is coming, the hit television series Game of Thrones still provides an awesome party theme. We all work hard and need to get away from the pressures of our everyday work load. Whether it’s a birthday or friendly get-together, here’s how to throw the perfect Game of Thrones party.

Place Every Partygoer in a House

  • No Game of Thrones party is complete without some of the most well-known houses in attendance. Assign a house to every party attendant. Think carefully and try to match people to the houses that best suit them. However, be careful because some people might not take too kindly to being assigned certain houses such as Lannister or Florent.

Create Some Awesome Invitations

  • Once assigning everyone a house, it’s time to create the invitations. Find a suitable medieval font online, type and print your invitations, then use some black tea bags (soaked in warm water) to give them an aged look. Finally, fold your invitations in order to seal them. Unfortunately, not everyone has hot wax and a signet ring available to complete the final step,  but don’t worry because stickers or printed paper with a house seal on them will work just as well.

The Perfect Feast

  • Normal party food is a huge no-no when it comes to throwing a Game of Thrones party. Instead, you should try your hardest to provide food that would be eaten in medieval times. This doesn’t mean you should look for some disgusting medieval dishes because the food still needs to be tasty. Games of Thrones party staples include hot pies and sausages; however, if you’re stuck for ideas, there are plenty of Game of Thrones recipe guides available both online and in book form for your reference.

Create A Game of Thrones Playlist

  • Instead of creating a playlist filled with the latest big hits and party tunes, you should create a Game of Thrones playlist. Obviously, the playlist must include the official Game of Thrones theme song, but it should also include various pieces of medieval-style music.

Decorate Your House

  • You can have so much fun decorating your house for a Game of Thrones theme party. Hang banners from the walls or use them as placemats or coasters. Printing out the official maps or making your own bunting are other good ideas.

Play Some Suitable Games

  • There are plenty of games that you can play when throwing a Game of Thrones party. A Game of Thrones quiz is a great idea – maybe Game of Thrones bingo? You could also purchase official Games of Thrones playing cards and board games.

Enjoy The Party

Follow all of this advice, and you can be assured that your Game of Thrones party will turn out perfectly. Enjoy the party!

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