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Expert: Hollywood Experience Helps Enable Substance Abuse Problems For Celebrities

Regina F. Graham
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Robin Williams in a file photo for 2011 (Photo credit CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)

Robin Williams in a file photo for 2011 (Photo credit CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)

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LAS VEGAS (CBS Las Vegas) – Many are still trying to grasp why Robin Williams, a man who gave the gift of laughter to the world, would suddenly take his own life.

Williams’ wife, Susan Schneider, released a statement Thursday indicating that the 63-year-old actor was suffering from depression, anxiety and early stages of Parkinson’s when he committed suicide Monday.

Experts are focusing on the role depression played in the death of Williams, suggesting that the Hollywood lifestyle is a “high-risk environment” for individuals who are predisposed to the mental illness.

Lemoyne College professor of psychology Krystine Batcho explained to CBS Las Vegas that Hollywood attracts two different types of people that create the high-risk environment.

“Hollywood is a high-risk environment from two different directions,” Batcho said. “It attracts people who have a predisposition to being emotionally fragile and what’s regarded in Hollywood as being different and unique. You have to be different in a big way and not a little way. It requires someone to go outside of their usual norms to fit it.”

She added that Williams has been described as “outside of the box his entire career.”

“That kind of personality is going to be successful in Hollywood,” Batcho said. “They don’t want boring, ordinary people in Hollywood.”

Batcho, who has been a licensed psychologist in New York state for over 30 years, said that being a celebrity in Hollywood could lead to a type of “pressure for continuing success,” which could correlate with depression.

“There’s a pressure for continuing success in Hollywood,” she said. “They don’t want to know what you did 5 years ago; they want to know what you are doing now. That sets up a person who is high-achieving to always keep up with themselves or out do themselves. That’s an incredible amount of pressure and stress that is correlated with depression.”

Batcho added that because celebrities are in the public eye and being judged constantly, they could be more prone to becoming depressed or having a substance abuse problem.

“Being in the public eye is absolutely a factor for depression,” Batcho stated. “Many times the stress is added on with trying to keep problems like depression or substance abuse private. Robin Williams, though, is a good example of someone who shared his problem with the world.”

She shared that the beloved comedian might have experienced a different kind of stress because he was open with his problems.

“I think that gave him a different kind of stress,” Batcho said. “Now that he told people he had a so called ‘weakness,’ people probably began watching him carefully looking for signs of the problem. People were waiting for him to fail and the media always wants to play up when someone stumbles. Everyone is waiting for it to happen, which is sad in some cases.”

Dr. Michael S. Broder, who is a renowned psychologist and best-selling author, explained to CBS Las Vegas that fame can act like a drug for many celebrities.

“Very often fame acts like a drug,” Broder said. “It really gets the adrenaline going and people feel like they are on top of the world when they are famous. The highs are very high, and the lows are very, very low when it comes to being a celebrity. The average person doesn’t have that kind of fluctuation. Some people are prone to depression and drug and alcohol abuse because they do give immediate short-term results to get people feeling high again.”

Batcho said that the life experience Hollywood provides people helps enable substance abuse problems.

“Hollywood gives people who are extremely successful money and contacts, which gives them the chance to confront problems but also avoid them in many ways,” she said. “They avoid with drug and alcohol abuse. Williams was open and honest about it and in the past he struggled with cocaine addiction. An argument could be made that drugs and alcohol could be a form to evade confronting real problems.

“There’s a correlation between addiction and depression,” Batcho stated. “They can go hand-in-hand. The cause and effect hasn’t yet been determined. It could be that people who are depressed could use drugs and alcohol to escape feelings. Then they realize they can’t kick the habit and become addicted and depressed.”

Broder, who is an expert in cognitive behavioral therapy, explained that he has seen depression in various forms through some of his celebrity clients. He said that the difference between regular people and celebrities is that people empathize with them.

“People empathize more with celebrities and their problems by giving them answers,” Broder said. “One alternative that so many turn to that makes them feel better in the moment is drugs. It’s from people who don’t understand them. And of course we all know that’s not a free ride because there are consequences to that, which makes it very unfortunate.”

Broder, who recently released a free audio download titled “Overcoming Your Depression,” said that he’s had numerous experiences working with people who are depressed.

“As tragic as it is when you’ve worked with depressed people as I have, you’re never surprised to hear about things like this. They are sad to hear about, but you’re never surprised.”

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