Phillip Seymour Hoffman was found dead from overdosing on drugs Sunday morning. He was found with a needle still in his arm. On the surface it is easy to say “so what”. He was just another actor who had fame and fortune who threw it all away with the selfish use of drugs. A theme that is all too common when these things happen.
But the truth is his problems started long before he was either. The truth also is that his battle with depression had been ongoing for most of his adult life. He went to rehab for the first time in his early twenties right after college. So his problems had nothing at all to do with being rich or famous. His problems had to do with the fact he was human. He had the same frailties that all the rest of us have. We all have issues. We all have things we wish could change, do differently, react differently to, be better.
Mental illness isn’t something to mess around with. It isn’t something that will just “go away” in time. It is a medical condition, not unlike high blood pressure or diabetes, that requires medical attention. In some cases it requires medication, in others talk therapy will work just fine. But in either event it is a medical condition.
I was watching Hannity on Fox News last night. Something I rarely do, as he isn’t one of my favorites. Last night he reminded me of why. He was showing pictures of the last few days and/or weeks of Mr. Seymour’s life. The pictures were from another “news” organization that I avoid like the plaque, TMZ. It is nothing more than an exploitative gossip organization that seems to get off on the tragedies of others. I am not sure how much money they paid for the pictures, and for my own mental well being I am better off not knowing.
Have your opinions on what drug addicts are, that is fine. If you believe they deserve what they get, OK. I will get to how you are wrong about that shortly, but that is your opinion. But remember, famous people have families as well. He had a long time girlfriend and three young children; Cooper, Tallulah, and Willa. The youngest being only five years old. These young children just lost their father.
I grew up with parent with a substance abuse problem. It is certainly isn’t the easiest of childhoods. It is downright painful in fact. Which his relapse back into to the addiction cycle may have been part of the reasons that he was separated from his long time girlfriend. That isn’t something that is really any of our business in any event. That is between him, her, and their children. But that doesn’t make the love they felt for their father any less than that of your children towards you or your love towards your parents. They deserve time to mourn in private without the people from the cheap seats chiming in on how he deserved what he got because he was a no good addict.
As I have stated mental illness is just that, an illness. It isn’t as simple as going to the doctor, getting a blood test, and be given a treatment that will help control or cure it. For many, such as myself, it is a life-long struggle that requires care. Care from others and care from myself towards myself. It is very easy to say well people like this are selfish when their lives end in a tragedy such as a drug overdose or suicide. The reality is far different.
Drugs and mental illness are very closely related. As I said it requires care. Sometimes that care comes in the form of self-medicating. It becomes the way to feel better, just for a moment. One moment in time that you don’t feel bad. You don’t feel that the entire world is closing in around you. For many, which I firmly believe that my father was one of these people, the stigma of mental illness is far worse than self-medicating. Being a drunk, an IV drug user, a pill popper, a snorter or whatever else your drug of choice may be is the better option. It is easier.
Dealing with a mental illness is painful and it is work, very hard work in fact. You are surrounded by a society that doesn’t even make the attempt to understand what you are dealing with. You are just labeled. You may as well just be the addict.
As a society it is well past time that we start dealing with these issues. Virtually every mass shooting in this country has roots in mental illness. Our jail and/or prison system contains a very large amount of mentally ill people, almost half in fact. The number is estimated to be about 48%. Nearly one-third of our homeless are mentally ill. We spend the money on the back end housing and feeding these people in our jails and homeless shelters. Yet we do very little to help them avoid those pitfalls and get the medical help that they need. Just in terms of dollars and cents, it makes far more sense to spend that money on the front end. Because we are spending it. That can not be denied, at least not honestly.
We stigmatize them. We tell ourselves that people like Mr. Hoffman was just a selfish man who had fame and fortune who was too weak to stay away from powerful drugs. We tell ourselves that the parents of these young shooters should have done more to help their children. We tell ourselves these things because it is easier than looking at ourselves and saying we too are to blame. We could do more a society, we just would rather not because if we did, we may have to look at ourselves and our frailties. We would have to look at our families and admit there may be a problem. It is far easier this way. We will just label them, call them weak. Nothing to see here folks, just move along.
Rest in Peace, Mr. Hoffman. I hope that you rest easier than you lived. Your talent will be missed.