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  1. Opinion

Column: Good for Bruce Springsteen for opening up about struggles with mental illness

In this Nov. 10, 2015, photo, Bruce Springsteen performs at the 9th Annual Stand Up For Heroes event in New York. In an interview, he has now talked about dealing with mental illness and makes the topic seem more relatable to the rest of us. [Photo by Greg Allen/Invision/AP]
Published Nov. 30, 2018

In a new interview with Esquire Magazine, Bruce Springsteen is opening up about his struggles with mental illness. The singer talks about a breakdown he had at age 32, admits to relying on multiple medications to remain mentally stable and even discusses his struggles with his identity and feeling like an "empty vessel."

Looking at Springsteen's long and successful career in music, no one would have ever guessed. After all, he seemed to have it all: money, fame and massive success. The question many people will be asking is: how could this have happened to him? The answer is simple: mental illness can happen to anyone. It has nothing to do with how famous you are, how much success you have, how much money you have made or anything else.

Most psychiatric conditions are a result of three factors: chemical imbalances in the brain where neurotransmitters have trouble sending messages from one nerve cell to the next; environmental factors such as trauma, sexual abuse, and other stressful events; and inherited vulnerability. Conditions like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, substance use disorder and more don't care about how many top Billboard hits you have or anything else. In fact, you could argue that celebrities are even more susceptible to psychiatric conditions because of the pressures of always being in the limelight.

I applaud Bruce Springsteen for coming forward, being honest and speaking publicly about his struggle with mental illness. It's a difficult thing for anyone to do much less someone who has a huge fan base and people look up to and admire. Springsteen didn't have to open up, but because he did, he now has the potential to help millions of people around the world.

Many psychiatric patients live in silence. Some have sought help and are in recovery. These people are your friends, colleagues, neighbors and even family members. They don't talk about it because they are afraid of what people would say or how they would be treated. It's sad, really, because mental illness is more much more common than people realize. In fact, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately one in five adults in the United States —43.8 million, or 18.5 percent — experiences mental illness in a given year. When a celebrity like Bruce Springsteen reveals his own struggles, it removes the stigma. It puts psychiatric patients at ease to know they are not alone and that others understand their pain.

One of the best things that happens when celebrities come forward and talk about mental illness is it all of a sudden makes it more relatable to people who don't understand and don't struggle. Unless you personally suffer with major depression, an anxiety disorder, substance use disorder or other condition, you really don't know how challenging and life-changing it can be. When outsiders see people like Bruce Springsteen talking about their battles with mental illness, it's not as big a deal anymore. Next time they hear about their own friends or family members who suffer, they now have an image of someone like Bruce Springsteen and they are less likely to see it as weird, strange or odd.

2018 has been a tough year for celebrities with mental illness. We all know about the unfortunate and untimely suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. It's good to hear another celebrity story that has a happier ending. Bruce Springsteen shows us that mental illness doesn't have to lead to suicide. It shows us that you can still go on and be successful, fulfilled and take control of your condition. If more celebrities came forward and opened up to show they are able to manage their condition with medication and therapy, we would be able to help so many other people who are needlessly suffering.

Dr. Prakash Masand is an adjunct professor at Duke NUS, a medical school in Singapore that is a collaboration between Duke University and the National University of Singapore. Masand, a psychiatrist, is founder of the Centers of Psychiatric Excellence.

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