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suicide and the hollywood machine: why do so many actors take their own lives?

Hollywood Hills
*Trigger warning: discussion of suicide*

Being more of a bookworm, I admit that I’m a little slow on the uptake when it comes to primetime TV. Last week, I finally watched Rizzoli & Isles for the first time. I came away thoroughly entertained by the strong female leads taking down patriarchy, one dirty cop at a time. As an added bonus, Rizzoli’s partner, Barry Frost, played by Lee Thompson Young, was an eminently likeable character. He disparaged the use of the word ‘catfight’, used to describe the heated tiff between Rizzoli and Isles. He was smart, funny, and respected Rizzoli’s competence. All very good things.

The next day, while surfing the net, I came across a headline about the suicide of Lee Thompson Young. I felt a jarring dislocation of having seen him alive and well on TV just the night before, while the reality of his death hummed all over the internet.

I don’t know enough about Hollywood or its lifestyle to understand what drives young actors to take their own lives. Being a psychology graduate, a student counsellor, and a HSP (highly sensitive person), I do know a lot more about the darkness of depression and how easy it is to give into despair.

The last time I felt this jarred by a young actor’s suicide was ten years ago. I was nineteen when I read about the suicide of Jonathan Brandis, one of the actors on SeaQuest DSV. I loved that TV show as a child, and he played Ensign Lucas Wolenczak, one of my favourite characters. Reading about his suicide brought me back to the ten year old I used to be, who couldn’t wait to watch another episode of SeaQuest DSV. Understanding what drove Jonathan Brandis to take his own life will always remain out of reach for me, as it is for the tragic suicide of Lee Thompson Young. My heart goes out to their friends and families, and to everyone who lives on after the suicide of a loved one.

Hollywood has a way of inflating reality. That’s why we tune in – to help us forget about the stresses of our own lives. Television is one of the most potent forms of escapism. But as the rate of young and talented actors who take their own lives continues to increase, it begs the question: what drives them to give up on living? This applies not just to actors, but to everyone touched by suicidal ideation.

With the high rates of suicide, research aimed at understanding and reducing suicide rates needs to continue.  The Centre of Research Excellence in Suicide Prevention (CRESP) was founded in 2012 to help reduce suicide rates in Australia. To give you an idea of the statistical impact of suicide, take a look at this excerpt from the Black Dog Institute:

‘Suicide is the most common cause of death in Australians aged 15-44 years. Australian young people are more likely to take their own life than die from motor vehicle accidents or skin cancer.  Every year 400,000 Australians experience suicidal thoughts, 65,000 make suicide attempts, 35,000 are admitted to hospital for suicide-related injuries and 2,500 die. In Australia, the financial costs have been estimated at $17.5b, or 1% of GDP.

Suicide is recognised as a public health crisis both in Australia and around the world. Whilst recent statistics indicate that the number of Australian suicides have dropped slightly we know that suicide rates are highly volatile and reactive to environmental events such as unemployment rates and economic adversity.’

There are arguably different stresses that come with living in the glare of the Hollywood limelight. Hollywood directors and producers need to step up to the plate and provide their actors with the emotional support that’s clearly needed to survive the doomed trajectory of their career path.

It’s easy to be desensitised by Hollywood reportage about yet another young actor who’s taken his or her own life. Lee Thompson Young isn’t the first, and he won’t be last. Behind each glamorous Hollywood headshot is someone who has suffered, most likely in silence. Despite the larger-than-life characters that these actors often portray, each actor who has committed suicide is still, in the end, terribly human.

If you are feeling suicidal or know someone who is, please call Lifeline on 13 11 44

One thought on “suicide and the hollywood machine: why do so many actors take their own lives?

  1. Pingback: Suicide and the Hollywood Machine – My Lip Mag opinion piece | Raidah The Writer

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