Authored by Elizabeth Mbekeka, (Uganda)
Artists have an impeccable ability to captivate us with their creativity, providing us a fascinatingly welcome escape from life’s realities. Be it a long day at work, a heartbreak, lost hope, or plain old boredom, artistic works like comedy, poems, novels, films, and songs lure us into a world that promises to fix life’s ugly mishaps, make wishes come true, or elevate the beautiful encounters…whichever you prefer! These creations can also easily fool us into believing that that is how their creators live: truly happy and needless!
Unfortunately, depression and suicide continue to be rampant in the lives of top artists, many of whom we have suddenly lost with zero clues about their ongoing inner struggles. The iconic actress Marilyn Monroe ended her life with a drug overdose in 1962, Alexander McQueen, a well-established fashion designer chose his closet as his death hanger in 2010, and Robin Williams, a man who gave many audiences endless laughter was no exception to suicide in 2014, following prolonged depression. One would wonder if the talent expressed was only an antidote for their underlying pain or a platform that dragged them into the insatiable jaws of death?
In a New York Times article exploring the links between depression, suicide and writers, clinical psychologist Kay Jamison highlighted that:
writers were 10 to 20 times more likely to suffer manic-depression (a mental health condition) which leads to suicide. Similarly, novelist Willian Styron admitted to battling depression and realized that depression and thoughts of suicide had been an integral part of his creative personality throughout his life, also expressed in his book Darkness Visible.
Emotional struggles can ignite artistic creativity as a way to offload one’s emotions but can also become an easy trap into depression and suicide when more attention is given to the “fruit” rather than the “root.” Audiences are often more captivated by the story created and its effect on their personal state than the interpretation of the true exasperation of the creator. For example, a young Nigerian writer Adeleke Racheal took her own life in April 2020 after writing a Facebook post that her audience enjoyed yet failed to read between the lines to the silent cries for help and the emotional storm that eventually claimed her life.
Additionally, singer and actress, Whitney Houston’s death in 2012 shocked the world and millions of fans when it was discovered she had been a prolonged cocaine user, numbing tonnes of emotional pain. The point is, while the amazing creative works of our favourite novelists, musicians, poets, actors, models and other celebrieties may highlight ingenuity and express societal issues; these same works can be instrumental as mirrors that reflect into the troubled souls of those we love. And if we stop, listen, and read between the lines, we may be able to catch on the inner struggles of our artists soon enough to find them help or save a life.
Depression and suicide will continue to haunt the artistic world unless societies become better support systems and attentive to the subliminal suicide notes embedded in songs, poems, sculptures, films, paintings, novels, comedy. We (fans) could learn to respond with more empathy, and reach out more to those that we commonly assume have happy, perfect lives.