Defending mental health is the latest celebrity scam
More than a century before the death of Princess Diana at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, the doctor Jean-Martin Charcot attracted all the city to its live demonstrations of neurological disorders on its premises. Charcot’s particular interest was hysteria, that mysterious and uniquely feminine complex – literally, “of the womb” – that seemed to afflict so many women of her time. His Tuesday lectures, featuring hospital patients, were a great spectacle, attended by, according to one story, “a multicolored audience from all over Paris: authors, doctors, leading actors and actresses, semi- fashionable socialites, full of morbid curiosity. Among them was Sigmund Freud, whose own deranged analysis of “the great neurosis” also made him famous.
There are certain symmetries in the story that make it seem like everything has been predicted, when in fact it is just human silliness doomed to repeat itself. But it seems fitting that La Salpêtrière is the final destination of the most unhappy woman of her time, and that her son turns her grief into a mental health problem.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, nicknamed Duke and Duchess of Sussex, fled to US shores at the start of the pandemic, when the whining of the wealthy was overshadowed by the worries of the unwashed. There was no time to worry about an unemployed adult man whose falling out with his family had forced him to quarantine himself in a $ 15 million house. But not for long. The Sussexes have reinvented themselves as warriors for the oppressed, taking advantage of their privilege by loudly denying it to anyone who would listen to them: Oprah, Dax Shepard, etc. Posing as refugees from the (unmistakably oppressive) and (unmistakably racist) tabloid British monarchy, they have made mental health projects a sort of radical chic. Their pursuit of wellness may not include the struggle for universal healthcare, but an adoring audience sees them thrive on steamy photoshoots, expensive clothing, and multi-million dollar Netflix deals. Harry even became an influencer – sorry, the “impact leader” – for an app-based “coaching” company. Far from seeking a less public life, they have capitalized on the willingness of the American media to escalate their struggle without scrutiny and to present their “advocacy” as somewhat crude and courageous.
This myth-making is antithetical to the actual work of psychotherapy, which is an intensely private experience. Sussexes’ performance, meanwhile, is calculated to boost eyes, clicks, and consumption. They are in good company, now that the hegemony of social media has made the appearance of living well in a spectator sport, which has arguably led to the recent massive and quantifiable increase in generalized depression.
A July study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences analyzed a century of data from Google Books for instances of language reflecting negative thought patterns called “cognitive distortions,” which are commonly associated with psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety. It peaked in the early years, then spiked to unprecedented levels between 2007 and today. As it turns out, this timeline coincides with the rise of Facebook (2004), Twitter (2006) and Instagram (2010), leading researchers to theorize that “the widespread adoption of communication technologies such as the Internet, the World Wide Web and social networking media may have resulted in greater societal and political polarization globally. They link polarization to cognitive distortions such as’ us versus them (mislabeling and labeling) thinking. [i.e., a reliance on simplistic good/bad categories], dichotomous reasoning, mind reading [assuming one knows what others are thinking], overgeneralization, emotional reasoning and catastrophism. All of this helps explain the growing prevalence of depression and, in turn, the boom in the wellness industry.
Instagram in particular, this ambitious portal, is directly linked to the rising rates of teenage depression. September the Wall Street newspaper exposed found that Instagram’s own research found that more than 40 percent of teens who said they felt “unattractive,” and about 25 percent who felt “not good enough,” said that these feelings started using the app. (For more on the recent Facebook revelations, see Jeet Heer’s column.) Teens with existing mental health issues were unequivocal that using Instagram made matters worse, but they struggled to log out, for fear of missing something. Constantly contemplating the carefully organized lives of other people does not, in fact, help emerging adults to cultivate a healthy sense of self. Yet it is a huge market: 40% of Instagram users are under 22 years old. The remaining 60% include all manner of snake oil sellers, as well as scheming royals who were banned from Buckingham Palace for trying to monetize their titles to 10 million followers.
Nonetheless, Meghan is writing a guaranteed ‘welfare’ bestseller with Prince Harry as part of a $ 20 million four-pound deal. This does not surprise Natalia Petrzela, a history professor at the New School who wrote about the hijacking of the wellness movement, which originated in the 1960s counterculture in response to a medical establishment that gave up. black women and patients (as he always does); their physical and mental well-being has been and is systematically ignored and their afflictions attributed to individual dysfunction rather than systemic failure. (Think of Charcot and Freud’s pathologization of women as “hysterics.”) People, ”says Petrzela. “It’s very difficult to verify if an app or a retreat, or a crystal or a self-help book, really supports mental health, but there really is no barrier to billing as such. “
Clearly no. There is just something particularly bad about peddling sanity as part of the larger spectacle that is destroying it on a grand scale.