Everyday Grace

thoughts and inspiration on emotional health by colleen p. arnold

Charlie Sheen: Mental Illness is Not Entertainment

One of my guilty pleasures is celebrity gossip. And I have to admit, part of my fascination is pure schadenfreude – when I’m struggling to make ends meet or balance my kids, work and other commitments, and I think, “If only I had an extra pair of hands, or a housekeeper, or a personal assistant, or more money, life would be easier…” it’s kind of reassuring to see that people with far more money and resources than I are also messed up and probably not very happy, even with their perfectly highlighted hair and designer clothes.

I’d been very peripherally following the Charlie Sheen saga, and knew he had issues with drugs and women. On Monday, I heard about these interviews he’d initiated in which he defended his actions. So I tuned in that night and watched his Today show and GMA interviews.

As I watched, I became increasingly uncomfortable. This wasn’t a hedonistic rock star who knew the consequences of his actions and was still choosing inebriation. Now, I obviously am not going to diagnose him on the basis of a television interview, but I will tell you that as I watched, I had flashbacks to every adult I’ve ever hospitalized in an unmedicated manic episode. Grandiosity, flight of ideas, pressured speech…it was all there. Of course he’s high on Charlie Sheen – it’s fun to be manic. And when you’re manic, you think you’re going to stay manic forever and it will be fabulous. Of course he can be sober now – his brain is providing a natural high. (Another disclaimer – I don’t know that he’s bipolar or in a manic phase – this is simply my impression based on his televised interviews).

But what about when he crashes? That’s when some people with bi-polar disorder turn to stimulants to try to keep the high going. That’s why so many people with mood disorders have co-occurring substance abuse issues. Their brain chemicals are not working right, so they’re trying to self-medicate to even out those chemicals.

I’ve seen more calls for the media to stop enabling him, and I hope it sinks in. In my opinion, they’re not just enabling him, they’re using his mental illness for entertainment value. Mental illness is not entertainment.

I do hope this ends up raising awareness for what mental illness can look like. People who are mentally ill are often unaware that their minds are playing tricks on them, but they also are smart, talented, and able to function in other ways. It can happen to anybody, and it doesn’t have to ruin lives. So please, stop laughing at him.

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