It was only a few days ago that 42-year-old Andrew Koenig son of actor Walter Koenig (of “Star Trek” fame), was also found dead as the result of suicide. The fact that these two suicides were the children of celebrities is, in my opinion, not coincidental. The two things are clearly related.
Both of these men had apparently been struggling with depression for some time. The children of celebrities face a unique emotional challenge that can often lead to depression — as well as to drug and alcohol abuse. These kids typically become anxious and depressed as the result of living in the shadow of their celebrity parent’s spotlight. They feel as though they will never measure up to their parent’s success.
Although the need to match our parents’ success is common to most children, the children of celebrities can feel that modest success is a great disappointment. Even what would normally be considered a high level of success can be viewed in a dim light when compared to the bright light of the celebrity parent. This results in the child struggling tremendously to develop his or her own identity and find a true sense of self.
Whether the children follow in their parent’s footsteps (like Andrew Koenig did) or try to strike out on their own path (as in the case of Michael Blosil), they always carry with them the legacy of their parent’s fame. Michael seems to have been struggling since early adolescence. Apparently he left a note explaining that he intended to commit suicide due to his lifelong battle with depression and his feeling that he had no friends and could never fit in. His depression was surely compounded by the fact that his famous family had such a squeaky-clean image.
An additional challenge for Michael was the fact that his mother, Marie Osmond, was also battling depression. Studies show that the children of depressive mothers have higher rates of depression themselves. It’s unclear whether depression is genetic (Michael was adopted) or learned (as a coping skill of sorts). In any case, growing up in a home with a depressed parent can complicate one’s childhood enough to create issues that can lead to major depression, even without the added pressures that the parent’s celebrity status brings.
Neither Marie Osmond nor Walter Koenig should feel as though they are to blame for their child’s condition or their horrible act. When a person takes his or her own life, he or she is making a choice that sometimes couldn’t have been thwarted with the best care or effort. The parents should not bear this burden. What we can and should learn from this is that we as parents — and as a society — need to be more mindful of the challenges that the children of celebrities face. Perhaps a little more compassion and open discussion can help prevent further family tragedies. Nothing is as devastating to a parent as a child’s suicide.
If someone you love exhibits one or more of these signs of depression, seek help for them immediately:
- Frequent sadness, tearfulness, crying
- Decreased interest in activities, or an inability to enjoy previously favorite activities
- Persistent boredom, low energy
- Social isolation, poor communication
- Low self-esteem, guilt
- Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
- Increased irritability, anger or hostility
- Difficulty with relationships
- Frequent complaints of physical illnesses such as headaches and stomachaches
- Frequent absences from school, or poor performance in school
- Poor concentration
- A major change in eating and/or sleeping patterns
- Talk of or efforts to run away from home
- Thoughts or expressions of suicide or self-destructive behavior