Time to Change The Conversation: What We Should Be Learning From Celebrity Deaths

I have no doubt that at this very moment I am one of many professionals who are racing to write an article or have a comment ready to address the sudden suicide of actor/comedian Robin Williams. There will be the typical theories from the likes of Dr. Drew who will discuss the role of addiction and mental illness. The local news will invite experts on the air to discuss what we missed and how families can look for the underlying signs of depression.

Do not get me wrong, these are all very valid points to discuss, but they have been said after every celebrity death and the same assessments are reported every news cycle.I was listening to the coverage on my way home and on cue hear Dr. Drew saying what I thought he would say. But it was a quote from a fellow actor that got my attention the most. Former SNL alum “ “ said that she will remember Robin Williams, not from his death, but for his energy that he brought to acting and comedy. The words that stood out to me about this memory was that, while it is a very sweet comment that expresses the respect that she had for Robin Williams, the clinician in me said, “maybe we shouldn’t forget why he died and how he died.”

Now before you get the wrong opinion, hear me out for a second. Every day in my office I see adolescents and young adults discuss how the American Dream is to get rich, famous and have nice houses and cars. They believe that is the American Dream and believe that those luxuries will cure all of their problems, will bring them happiness and purpose in life. The truth is that these clients are empty inside and have fallen for the false idea of what brings happiness and meaning. We can blame parents but really this mindset permeates television, movies, Internet, and society itself. The entertainment industry especially is an offender with reality television stars who flaunt wealth (wealth often gained from who their parents were and not what they did). It’s no wonder why the population believes that this is the American Dream and the purpose of life. But one by one the very figures who flaunt this message turn out to not see the payout from their own message.

Robin Williams may not have been a pusher of this false mindset, but his death does provide us an opportunity to explore why our culture yields so many people who have everything that the American Dream tells them they need only to find that it was not the answer. The irony is Robin Williams was a man who tried to do everything right. He was one of the first actors to be open about his addiction issues early in his career. He even went to rehab last month to address resurfacing issues in his addiction before he relapsed again. This is a man who had it all and yet everything that we think he needed was not enough to keep him alive. We are obviously missing something as professionals when somebody can do everything right to deal with their problems, have everything we are taught to need to be happy, but the results are another wasted talent and life. We keep losing people close to us and continuing the same dialogue and advice has yielded no positive results. If we apply these solutions to running a business, it would be the equivalent to choosing the same ad campaign that results in you losing sales; after a while you would realize that if you want to stay in business you need to figure out a new way to get business.

The answer is to not restate it as simply depression, addiction, or missing the warning signs.  Maybe the problem is all around us, and these problems are merely the collateral damage of the society that we created. We can use this opportunity to forget how this amazing talent died and ask the same question. Or we can look at how we live our lives and realize that maybe the problem is not how we cope with society, but rather, how society is constructed in the first place. Maybe we need to start asking the question of why the people who have it all, feel so empty on the inside, they kill themselves slowly with drugs or suddenly with a gun.  How does this play out not only on the streets of Hollywood Blvd, but also Main St. America?