Mark Brown suggests that glorifying high-achievers with mental health difficulties may be more insensitive than inspiring:
Where the inspirational figure is selected for us, and the gap between their life and ours is too great, the effect is not one of encouragement but of disillusionment – especially if their story is told in terms of personal qualities like bravery or persistence.
The blogger Neuroskeptic takes Brown’s point – “‘He’s got it, and so do you, so you can be like him’ is perilously close to ‘He’s got it, and so do you, so you should be like him – what’s your excuse?'” – but maintains that celebrity sufferers contradict different stigmas in different ways:
In the case of depression, the core stigma is that depression is a weakness, a moral failing. That depressed people are soft, weak, pitiable. This attitude is specific to depression – not even bipolar disorder is seen in the same way, let alone the other diagnoses. They have their own stigmas. Depression’s is weakness.
Now this is why Churchill is a good counterexample. Not just because he’s famous or ‘great’, but because he was famously tough. He faced down Hitler. He was blood, sweat and tears. In the most famous photos of him (and they are famous, out of all his photos, because they correspond to the mental image) he is almost unsmiling – but never despairing. Just resolute.
That he experienced depression undermines the myths surrounding that condition, in a way that an entertainer or other generic celebrity wouldn’t.
(Photo: Prime Minister Winston Churchill and General Charles De Gaulle, January 1944, via Wikimedia Commons)