Philip Seymour Hoffman, considered one of the brightest and greatest actors in Hollywood today, had a secret. He was addicted to heroin, and apparently consumed great quantities of it, as investigators found 50 small bags of a powder substance, and 20 used syringes, in his apartment. A syringe was still in his arm. Once again, another high profile, bright and talented actor is dead from an overdose of an illegal, always potentially lethal drug. Director Spike Lee, with an almost resigned comment, tweeted "Damn, we lost another great actor." Recent overdoses among acclaimed celebrities include those of Cory Monteith, due to a heroin and champagne cocktail; and Heath Ledger, due to a combination hit of valium, oxycodone, alprazolam, hydrocodone, and more. And who can forget Michael Jackson's fatal dose of propolfo?
But alongside the heroin found in Hoffman's apartment was also a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication. It was well-known among those who knew him, worked with him, and had interviewed him, that he was brooding, self-loathing and far from optimistic. Simon Hattenstone, writer for theguardian.com, described him as "one of the most miserable men I have ever met." Hoffman spoke to him about being addicted to alcohol and drugs in his youth, and had kicked them at age 22. Then, in 2012 he was admitted for treatment for prescription drugs and cocaine.
So, with constant self-destruction among our highly visible and talented celebrities, why is there no allusion to a connection between drug and alcohol addiction and mental health? The celebrities above were all described as moody, and Ledger and Jackson both admitted to constant insomnia.
Americans would rather call a celebrity's death by overdose "an accident" than take a look at the facts about mental health issues like depression. Few know that approximately 20 million Americans are clinically depressed, and 40% of the disabilities reported in the US and other developed countries are caused by mental health issues including depression. Over 20% of Americans 18 and older have a diagnostical mental health issue. Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in America, and the third leading cause of death among 15 to 24-year olds.
Depression is a mood disorder causing back pain, chronic headaches, insomnia, alcoholism, drug addiction, suicide and more. Bipolar disorder is characterized by mood swings that go from "high" or hyperactive to depression. Both can cause drug use that results in overdoses.
The Washington Post quotes Peter Delaney, an official at the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration as saying, "It's a concern, a public health concern when you see drug use going up like this," referring to heroin.
Because stigma results in a lack of medical help, sufferers often "self-medicate" with illegal drugs or medications.
Could the lives of these "great and talented" individuals be saved with regular mental health care? Could the suicide rate of Americans be helped by elimination of stigma, fear and shame that prevent us from getting help? Perhaps it's worth a thought.