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The cost of fame: Why celebrities opt to suffer in silence

Sunday November 18 2018

Some celebrities opt to suffer in silence.

Some celebrities opt to suffer in silence. PHOTO | FOTOSEARCH 

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At only 28, Tim Bergling, the Swedish musician, DJ, remixer and record producer, better known by his stage name Avicii, was worth $85 million (Sh8.7 billion) and had the world in his palms.

Then on April 20, the world woke up to the shocking news of his death in Muscat, Oman. Just when his fans were still absorbing the news, reports indicated that the DJ took his own life by cutting himself with a broken wine bottle.


His family’s statement would later disclose that he had struggled with thoughts about life and happiness, and, according to them, he could not go on any longer.

Many wondered how thoughts of hopelessness would cross the mind of such an individual who seemed to have everything going for him.

Avicii’s death came a few months after Chester Bennington, the lead vocalist of American rock band Linkin’ Park, was found dead at his home in California, with authorities declaring his death as suicide.

Before his death, Bennington was plagued with poor health and a sequence of injuries that often frustrated his career and at times affected his tour schedule.

Earlier, Robin Williams, the American actor who made a name for himself in Hollywood with major roles from award-winning movies like Mrs Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting and Night at the Museum died, with the final post-mortem reports revealing his death was from suicide by hanging.

This death followed incidences of illnesses and mental issues believed to have made him slip into depression, with some of his statements suggesting emptiness before his unexpected end.

In one of his famous quotes Williams had said: “I used to think the worst thing in life is to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel all alone.”

Williams had also been hospitalised for heart problems, Parkinson’s disease and severe depression.

Actor Robin Williams.

Actor Robin Williams. PHOTO | FILE | AFP


There is no doubt that the beast of depression has sunk its teeth deep into the entertainment industry, with high-profile suicides leaving many puzzled.

We spoke to experts to break down for us just what could be troubling this class of individuals who, many believe, have everything life has to offer.

Kendi Ashitiva, a psychologist and co-founder of Nisikize Counselling and Call Centre, an institution that deals with mental wellness, told Lifestyle that many artistes and entertainers at large haven’t been able to draw a line between the stage and real life.

“Some just don’t know when the camera and the lights go off, so that they can move into reality. Some still have this imaginary audience they think they should please even in their normal life, hence the pressure to live a perfect life, which is mission impossible,” she explained.

For psychiatrist and mental health advocate Dr Boniface Chitayi, the causes of stress can either be organic or psychological.

“Some organic causes include illnesses, medication or chronic conditions like heart problems,” he explained.

Some would reckon that perhaps this is a Western problem, but depression is also eating into artistes even closer home.

But while money doesn’t seem to be the main cause of depression and suicide among some of these acclaimed international entertainers, in Africa it seems to be the main reason pushing artistes to the wall.


Just last month, South African rapper Jabulani Tsambo, better known by his stage name Hip Hop Pantsula or simply HHP, was found dead in his Johannesburg home, with the tabloid Celeb Gossip South Africa reporting that he had committed suicide, in what was his fourth attempt.

In an interview in 2016, HHP, who was famed for his ability to perform in several languages, revealed that he had tried to commit suicide three times in 2015 alone, with the first of those two attempts coming as he was struggling to get gigs as radio stations were not playing his music any more.

Three months ago, Christopher Njogu Munene, alias Kris Eeh Baba, the renowned gospel musician famed for his hit, Eeh Baba, admitted to have slipped into depression, through a post on Instagram that got many worried.

Gospel artiste Kris Eeh Baba.

Gospel artiste Kris Eeh Baba in Machakos Town on May 24, 2015. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Christopher told Lifestyle that he had faced depression since 2016, a condition that got worse last year. He said the challenges connected to his music career played a major part in pushing him into that state of mind.

“For instance, this year alone I have paid for three music videos but I haven’t shot any. Sometimes the producer isn’t available or there’s just some excuse. You have no idea of the kind of damage this kind of inconvenience does to an artiste,” he said.

So bad was the situation that there was a time this year he locked himself in the house for three months, and only went out to buy basic necessities.

It is the same predicament that has been eating into the flesh of John “Slim” Owino and Nashon “Nashlin” Otieno, upcoming artistes of Wateule, who have been struggling with odd jobs just to earn some money to further their musical dreams.

But their struggle has mostly been in vain, often falling prey to rogue music promoters and producers each time they get some money and try to hit the studio.

“For quite some time, we’ve been doing all sorts of jobs to try and save some money for recording music. But each time, we fall into the hands of con men who’ve branded themselves as promoters and producers. They take our money and run away,” said Nashlin.


Having dealt with a number of artistes struggling with depression, Ms Ashitiva says many entertainers find themselves in such a situation due to the pressure associated with the entertainment industry.

She says there are some artistes who invest all their money and sometimes are forced to borrow funds in order to record music and videos, with the expectation that they are going to reap big from their work, which doesn’t often materialise.

According to Ms Ashitiva, the entertainment industry promises fame and fortune, with many artistes, both upcoming and established ones, having this pre-conceived expectation of cheers, gigs and fan base among other goodies.

“Despite the fact that entertainment pays well, it is not an overnight thing. Some of these musicians would go into music expecting that after a song or two the fame and the money will come in an instant, which usually doesn’t,” she says.

It is then that they slip into depression.

Linkin Park's Chester Charles Bennington.

Linkin Park's Chester Charles Bennington. PHOTO | FILE | AFP

She also notes that artistes have an internal battle with themselves, which mostly is as a result of the pressure to maintain a certain lifestyle and image associated with fame and fortune.

“The entertainment industry is very alluring. There is the pressure to be better than everyone else, record a song that is better that anyone else’s and get more likes and following on social media, a fact that pushes them to the edge especially when they feel like they are not achieving it. If the money doesn’t come then it becomes a problem,” she says.


She argues that artistes have conditioned their fans into this life of perfection that they feel they should maintain.

“If all you do is post photos of holidays, wearing nice shoes and outfits, you condition your audience to expect success from you. So, if in your next photos we don’t see this, then we start asking questions,” she explained.

According to Kris, the worst thing about depression is that the victim only thinks about the worst and how things aren’t working out.

He said most of the time people have no idea they are suffering from depression, with the few who know failing to come out because they fear stigma.

“I have four friends who are actually going through this but they have chosen not to come out, only informing a few friends they trust won’t say a word,” he reveals.

A 2017 World Health Organisation (WHO) report dubbed Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders, ranked Kenya sixth in Africa with the highest number of depression cases behind Nigeria, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa. Poverty and unemployment were reported as the major factors that contribute to depression.

According to the report, 800,000 people around the world die annually due to suicide, the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds, with experts implying that most of the people depressed in Kenya conceal it.

Though Kris says he is now fully recovered, it hasn’t been an easy journey.

“Getting back to your normal frame of mind after going through depression requires time,” he says.

According to Ms Ashitiva, the solution lies in being yourself.

“The entertainment industry is about having most likes, the best video, and the most following on social media. This will kill you. How about competing with the authenticity of your work?” she asks.

According to her, a musician is supposed to manage the audience and not the other way round.

“Keep your private life from the public and cease from this habit of behaving like you are superhuman. Perfection is not a reality,” she adds.



Expert’s advice to celebrities coping with depression

Dr Boniface Chitayi, a mental health advocate, says a person should make the conscious decision of managing his or her stress in order to prevent its effects.

“You should recognise the signs of your body’s response to stress. Some of the signals are increased alcohol intake and other substance use, having low energy, not enjoying things that once fascinated you, difficulty in sleeping, and being easily angered,” he explains.

He recommends regular exercises, setting goals, planning your day and seeking professional help.

“The most important step is for a person who suspects that they may have depression to seek professional mental health services. Mild forms of depression can be resolved with simple strategies such as exercise or reading a self-help book. However, one needs a professional to determine the severity of depression and follow up to know when the depression has been resolved. Working alone is not advisable,” he counsels.

He says it is normal to feel embarrassed of coming out when facing depression because of the many stereotypes associated with mental illnesses.

The expert notes that Kenyans can only deal with the stigma by educating the public that mental disorders are diseases just like physical illnesses.

“People ought to be aware that those who suffer from depression have not done so by choice; that anybody is at risk of suffering depression at some point in their life,” he says.

Dr Chitayi says a person will only know that he or she has fully recovered when he or she regains interest in pleasurable activities again.