I’m not a person who follows the news very closely. I browse around the Internet, pick up a newspaper from time to time, and while I’m at work the local news channel is usually playing on one or more of the TVs in the restaurant — but I don’t make a point of checking up on these sorts of things every day.
Today, though, was a slow day at work, and so I ended up watching quite a bit of the day’s TV news coverage — much of which was, of course, concerning the death of Whitney Houston.
I can’t say I know much at all about Ms. Houston. I recognize her songs from radio and such, of course, and know that she was in The Bodyguard and a few other movies, but that’s about the extent of my knowledge. Watching the news today, though, got me thinking a lot about death, mental health issues, and addiction, and how we react to such things as a society.
Now, I’ll preface this by saying that I’m not speaking specifically about Whitney Houston: I know next to nothing about her, those around her, or the circumstances surrounding her death. It was just the topic of the day on the news, and what got me thinking along these lines.
There have been a few high-profile celebrity deaths in recent years that have also brought up these same topics. Michael Jackson. Amy Winehouse. And the story’s the same every time: once they’re gone, there’s this huge and incredibly public outpouring of love, and appreciation, and support for this person. Friends and family members are on every news outlet. People who may not have even spoken to the deceased in years — who may have not even thought of them at all in recent times — are suddenly in high demand for interviews, reminiscing about what used to be. And everybody says what a tragedy it is. How awful. How much they wish it hadn’t happened.
Where were these people six months ago? One month ago? A week ago? Where was this outpouring of love and support when this person was alive, and clearly in need of it? Why did they have to struggle, and suffer, and ultimately die, completely alone? It’s all well and good to go on TV after they’re gone and lament the tragedy, but why weren’t you there before they died, helping them to deal with what was hurting them?
There are hundreds of answers, of course, and many of them are quite valid. Life is tough, and full of things that take our time and our thoughts and our attention. We’re all too busy to spend all our time watching out for somebody else’s problems: we have our own problems to deal with, and our own personal demons to fight. And even if we do take the time to help another, it’s draining. It’s emotionally exhausting to spend time holding up another human being, pulling them away from the chasms of depression and self-destruction, and no one can possibly keep at it for very long, no matter how much you love the one who is suffering.
The factor that scares me, though; the thing that makes me sad and concerned for the state of humanity in general, is that so many people are simply afraid to confront things like addiction and depression. They deny the problem, or they simply ignore it, no matter how obvious it may become. And this is the thing that, I think, needs so urgently to change. We as a society need to become more concerned for other people’s suffering. We need to learn not to turn away when we see the signs that another is going through a bad time — because even just a kind word, or a friendly shoulder to cry on, for just a short time, can mean so much. It can, quite literally, be the difference between life and death for someone who’s on the edge. And if we all do this, if we all come to the aid and support of a person who’s suffering, then the burden on each one person is lightened, and it’s not so hard to pull that person back from the edge, away from their desperation and back into something healthy.
So while we’re all busy paying so much attention to the untimely death of one celebrity, I think it’s important that we take the time to think as well of those in our own lives who are struggling with demons. Addiction and mental health issues affect so much of the population; we all have people in our lives who have been touched by these problems. And we need to reach out to them more often. To remind them that they are not alone, that they are loved, and that we are there for them.
Because being there for them now is so much better than being on stage at their funeral.