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Celeb Rehab: The Art of Compassion

By Brian Dyak, President & CEO

In 1983, I founded a non profit organization, the Entertainment Industries Council, Inc. (EIC), to serve as a bridge between the entertainment industry and health and social issues. With these 25 years of experience, I believe I am qualified to respond to the finger-pointing, poking, prodding, lens clicking and tittering that surround celebrity rehab. And I've got something to say.

First and foremost, the celebrity rehab we read about is not a joke for people's amusement. Thanks to our tabloid-driven pop culture, we-and our children-have unprecedented access to what addiction and mental illness look like. Britney Spears, Amy Winehouse, Lindsay Lohan and over two dozen other people gained headlines in 2007 for entering therapy and addiction recovery centers.

These are lives at risk, out of control, not jokes, and not reality television shows taking place on the streets of Hollywood for public amusement. If we pay attention, we can see complex stories unfolding before our eyes. One of EIC's primary principles is to be non-judgmental in our approach and respect creative freedom afforded in our great nation. For those who make assumptions about substance abuse and mental health problems, I ask:

Don't you think that every individual is entitled to kindness, compassion, and empathy-- Especially during a time when he or she is emotionally and physically struggling?

These issues affect every cross-section of our population regardless of gender, socio-economic status, race or religion. The reality is-- most of us can name at least one person in our lives who has been devastated by some form of mental illness or substance abuse. If you're laughing now at Britney Spears, will you be laughing in five or ten years when, heaven forbid, your niece, uncle, sister, brother, even your mother or your own son or daughter loses control of his or her life? Will it be funny then?

"There is a stark contrast between tabloid journalism, and gossip mongering programming that does nothing but flame the fires of misinformation-- and media that makes a difference-- sheds a light, educates, and may just save a life. What we often don't realize in our collective rush to judgment, is that the entertainment industry can be an amazingly powerful ally in creating awareness and sensitivity to public health and social issues by airing programs that accurately depict the realities and the subsequent challenges we all may face.

VH1's Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, A&E's Intervention, HBO's Rehab-- are among important, revolutionary shows that serve the public in a unique and valuable way. Highlighting those first steps to fight the struggles that come along with addiction and mental health problems, is a process not unlike walking through a maze blindfolded. It's scary and it isn't pretty. Some make it to the betterment of their own lives, the lives of families, friends, and society. And some sadly don't. However if these insights portrayed on these programs can help with efforts to heal or help in our empathy and understanding, then that can be a good thing.

This access to the private lives of celebrities who face constant scrutiny and challenges unimaginable by most people- is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it exposes us to the waking nightmare that losing control of one's life can be, but on the other hand, it has opened dialogue about addiction and mental illness that has, until now, been hush-hush. While I, like most of America, am concerned about Britney Spears's welfare, as well as the health and safety of her children, I am encouraged that we seem to have a national shift from bemused fascination with her spontaneous antics to recognition of her condition as critically ill, and a new awareness of the real point of rehabilitation: to get better.

So the next time you get a peek into the lives of Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Mel Gibson, Kirsten Dunst, Pat O'Brien, Eva Mendes, Marc Jacobs, Jesse Metcalfe, Eddie Van Halen, and others, be grateful for what you've got and respect these people for seeking treatment. If their stories make you query your own actions, consider following their example and get help. Thanks to public attention to the recovery process, which can and often does include relapses, we must stop mocking and start understanding. These stories may be the gift others find to deter the sadness of losing friends, family and great, late artists like Heath Ledger, Brad Renfro, and well, you know the list.

John Goodman recently made a telling comment about his recent work in rehab:

"For my family and myself, I voluntarily took the necessary steps to remain sober the rest of my life."

Go for it, John, and thanks for sharing. Yes, "thanks for sharing," that often-repeated mantra: When anyone, but particularly someone who receives national or worldwide attention because of his or her name, shares experiences of such a personal nature, it really does mean something in the big picture.

Going to rehab or seeking professional counseling for a mental health problem should be a personal and private experience, void of judgment. However, since it's not for so many, why don't we support those who face it openly and learn something? Cheers to media that enlightens us. And cheers to John Goodman and everyone else who has the strength and courage to ask for support and to do so in the public eye.

So now, why don't we try to stop making assumptions, pointing the finger and practice a bit of compassion as celebrities as well as anyone who may be struggling with mental health issues or addiction, work to win their lives back?

Created: 3/3/2008  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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