Celebrity Roles in Mental Health, Awareness Campaigns and Social Change

Kendall Jenner – Pepsi Commercial

I’ve always found celebrity culture fascinating. The idea that certain people in the world become so wealthy, well-known and influential just because they portray a character in a TV show, or movie, or play music or a sport well seems so bizarre to me.

Of course, these days people don’t even need to be talented in the traditional sense to become famous. In the last few years we’ve seen the rise of the reality TV star – from the wealthy socialites to the ordinary, everyday Kiwis on cooking shows and dating allegedly eligible bachelors – it seems anyone can find their fifteen minutes of fame.

There has been plenty of discussions both online and off about the negative influence of celebrity culture. At times it almost feels like there is an unhealthy obsession with celebrity and fame. Certainly social media, particularly image-focused sites like Instagram, play a central role in the glorification of super-skinny, hyper-sexualised celebrities with impossible body proportions. This undoubtedly has had an influence on the rise of depression, anxiety and eating disorders – particularly amongst young people.

Although it is true, celebrities can also play a powerful role in social change. A great example of this is the support of celebrities in increasing awareness in the area of mental health in New Zealand and internationally too. Almost everyone is aware now of John Kirwin “coming out” about his depression, as well as the Like Minds Like Mine campaign.

Mike King, Denise L’Estrange Corbett, Ian Mune, Polly Gillespie and our very own Philip Patston have all spoken publicly about their experience of common mental health issues like anxiety, depression and addiction – and there are of course many, many more. While I think we still have a long way to go, celebrities have truly led the charge in increasing the awareness and conversation around mental health in New Zealand.

I’m not even a person who engages with a lot of traditional media. I deliberately don’t read or watch much news, as it’s usually relatively depressing stuff.  My work involves a certain degree of emotional input, so I try to cultivate a more positive and restorative environment in my personal time.  I don’t even watch a lot of television in general for the same reason. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person in New Zealand that hasn’t seen Game of Thrones.

But, I must admit that I do find the rise of non-traditional media interesting. It seems like anyone with a laptop, a camera and a social media account can cultivate a massive following which could garner a considerable amount of social influence.

However, I believe celebrity culture like social media is neither a good nor a bad thing inherently. Celebrities can play a role in shaping and creating our social values, but I often think they are more of a symptom than the root of the problem itself.  Those who promote certain body types and lifestyles only do so because it gets them more fans and fame.  We have a choice in creating a demand for the type of media we want to consume.

Celebrities who choose to promote a certain social cause may lead the way in creating new conversations. Perhaps it’s less about the celebrity voice and more about tapping into an existing desire for these new discourses – I’m not sure.

So what do you think?  Is celebrity culture a good thing, a bad thing, or somewhere in between?

Self-Compassion And Self-Care: Being As Kind To Yourself As You Are To Other People


Modern life is stressful – so stressful! Between work, study, maintaining relationships, family obligations, childcare, paying bills, cooking meals, organising a household, taking care of pets, exercising, volunteering, socialising…it’s not surprising how little time we can spend thinking of nice things to do for ourselves!

Self-care can mean a huge range of things to different people.  I’ve talked before about how to make self-care work for you, basically by doing the things you like and find restorative (and not just ticking off a huge list of things that are “supposed” to be good for you, but that you may not actually get much out of).  

As a person who has a habit of setting super high standards and being really hard on myself, this year I’ve been trying to focus more on my “psychological” self-care.  That means doing things like going easy on myself, not overworking, not overcommitting, keeping my boundaries, taking regular “nothing time” and forgiving myself if I don’t get it right all the time too.

I saw a great TEDx talk recently by Dr. Kristin Neff, a researcher on authenticity, self-concept, and self-compassion and a practicing Buddhist to boot.

Neff talks about how hard we can find it to be compassionate to ourselves, even when we might be very good at extending compassion to others.  She notes how many people tend to use the “stick” rather than the “carrot” to try and motivate themselves to achieve more.  That is, they beat themselves up for not getting things done, rather than providing an incentive to reward themselves when they do.  Curiously, her research shows that, in fact, those who are more kind and forgiving towards themselves when they do fail tend to feel more motivated and get more done in the long run.

So what does it mean to be self-compassionate?  And why on earth is it so hard to do?  Neff says on her website, “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?”

Of course, this doesn’t mean slacking off all the time, never doing things you intend to, and then being okay with it! Neff is clear that self-compassion is not self-pity or self-indulgence.  Rather it is about doing things because you care about yourself and want to make changes in your life that allow you to be healthy and happy and not just because someone else tells you to.

It sounds so simple, but how easy it is really?  I think it’s so much harder to consistently treat yourself in a way that is kind and forgiving, especially if you have a lifetime of practice at beating yourself up about things instead.  It seems much easier to just tick a few things off your “self-care plan” and consider it done unless you don’t get it done, then you get to feel bad about that too.

I think self-compassion is both an attitude towards yourself as well as a skill that you can learn. I’ve certainly found I’ve got better at it with practice and patience.  A lot of self-compassion websites suggest cultivating self-compassion through mindful meditation exercises, and Neff has some great examples on her website if you’re interested to give them a go.  I’ve found some of them useful when I’m really struggling to be kind to myself.

For me though, “pulling myself up” on my self-criticism works really well too.  For example, whenever I notice that I’m self-criticising or thinking about something I should have done better or managed differently, I ask myself, “Would I ever say something that harsh to a friend or a client?”  If the answer is “no”, then I imagine a little script that I would say to someone else. The result is something a little kinder and more understanding with a commitment to learn and try something different next time – and forgiveness if I don’t get it right even then.

I’ve noticed that doing this repeatedly does make me feel a little better about my perceived failings and mistakes which I’m also sure are not as big a deal to other people as they are to me. The trick of course is first to notice those thoughts in order to begin a process to address them.

So what do you think?  Are you into the idea of self-compassion as part of your self-care?

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