Psychology professor discusses celebrity suicides

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Phoenix native Chester Bennington of the rock group Linkin Park recently took his own life. His death followed the suicide of Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell. Arizona State University Foundation professor of psychology Suniya Luthar will talk about why those who seemingly have achieved their dreams sometimes end up taking their lives.

Ted Simons: UP NEXT ON "ARIZONA HORIZON," WHY SOME CELEBRITIES WITH WEALTH, FAME AND FAMILY-SUPPORT WIND UP TAKING THEIR OWN LIVES. >>PHOENIX NATIVE CHESTER BENNINGTON OF THE ROCK GROUP LINKIN PARK RECENTLY TOOK HIS OWN LIFE, HIS DEATH FOLLOWED THE SUICIDE OF SOUNDGARDEN FRONTMAN CHRIS CORNELL. ASU FOUNDATION PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY SUNIYA LUTHAR JOINS US NOW TO TALK ABOUT WHY THOSE WHO SEEMINGLY HAVE ACHIEVED THEIR DREAMS SOMETIMES TAKE THEIR OWN LIVES.

Ted Simons: GOOD TO HAVE YOU HERE. THANK YOU FOR JOINING US. WHEN YOU HEAR ABOUT THESE FOLK, ACTOR, COMEDIANS, SUCCESSFUL, WELL KNOWN PEOPLE DOING THIS, ARE YOU SURPRISED?

Suniya Luthar: NOT WHEN YOU KNOW THE BACKGROUNDS SOME OF THESE PEOPLE HAVE. BENNINGTON, FOR EXAMPLE, I UNDERSTAND HAD A HISTORY OF CHRONIC AND SEVERE ABUSE AS A CHILD. HE WAS SEXUALLY ABUSED SEVERAL YEARS AND STARTED USING ABUSING DRUGS AND ALCOHOL SHORTLY AFTER AGE 11. THE THING ABOUT ABUSE OF ANY KIND, IT CRUSHES THE SOUL OF A CHILD AND HAS LONG-TERM EFFECTS ON THE CHILD. LONG TERM, IT HAS PROFOUND AND SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES.

Ted Simons: DO YOU FIND IF THE CHILD CAN GET PAST CHILDHOOD THAT BY MIDDLE AGE IT CREEPS BACK?

Suniya Luthar: THOSE THAT HAVE CHRONIC ABUSE, THERE IS A VULNER ABILITY, SO FACED WITH ANOTHER TRAUMA, YOU CAN BE PUSHED OFF THE AGE.

Ted Simons: MARRIED, SUCCESSFUL MARRIAGE, KIDS, EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD. DOES THIS KIND OF THING, FOR THOSE KINDS OF FOLKS, IT'S HARD FOR US TO UNDERSTAND HOW THEY GOT TO THAT POINT.

Suniya Luthar: THOSE THAT ARE AFFLUENT AND SUCCESSFUL ARE AT GREATER RISK THAN THE REST OF US IN SOME REGARD. ACCESS TO DRUG AND ALCOHOL IS EASY FROM A YOUNG AGE ONWARD. THAT CAN PUSH YOU OVER THE EDGE. THE OTHER THING, THEY ARE LESS LIKELY TO FEEL THEY HAVE FRIENDS AROUND THEM. MOST OF US KNOW WHO OUR FRIENDS ARE. THEY COME TO HELP YOU CARRY THE T.V. UP OR HELP YOU CHANGE YOUR TIRE. BECAUSE THEY CAN BUY EVERYTHING, THEY ARE DEPRIVED OF PROOF OF REAL FRIENDS THEY CAN RELY ON.

Suniya Luthar: THEY SEEK TREATMENT FOR DEPRESSION, BEING HOSPITALIZED. THESE ARE NOT THINGS THE CELEBRITIES WANT OUT THERE IN THE NEWS FOR PEOPLE TO GET ON. THE OTHER THING, IN SOME WAYS THE MOST IMPORTANT, WHEN YOUR SENSE OF SELF WORTH STARTS TO DEPEND ON YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS, IT'S A SLIPPERY SLOPE. YOU FEEL GOOD BECAUSE OF THE ADORING CROWDS. WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU LOSE THAT LEVEL OF ADMIRATION AND SO ON?

Ted Simons: THAT'S INTERESTING. ROCK-AND-ROLL IS A YOUNG PERSON'S GAME. YOU HIT YOUR PEAK IN THE 20S AND 30S. AFTER THAT, THINGS SLIP A BIT. IF YOU DON'T HEAR THE ADORING CROWDS AS MUCH AS YOU USED TO, THAT COULD BE A PROBLEM.
Suniya Luthar: AND GOING BACK TO BEING ABUSED. YOU THINK I'M A GOOD PERSON. PEOPLE LOVE ME. THAT'S ONE THING. IF YOU DON'T HAVE THAT AND YOU RELY ON THE CELEBRITY STATUS AND FAME, THERE ARE FEW PEOPLE LIKE PAUL MCCARTNEY OR PEOPLE THAT STAY FAMOUS AND PERFORM -- ERIC CLAPTON, WELL INTO THEIR LATER YEARS AND STILL HAVE LARGE CROWDS. MOST PEOPLE FAME IS FLEETING AND IT'S A LOSS.

Ted Simons: IT SOUNDS LIKE LONELINESS, YOU MIGHT FEEL IT MORE THAN WE EXPECT.

Suniya Luthar: ABSOLUTELY. YOU ARE DEPRIVED OF THAT PROOF OF WHO IS YOUR FRIEND. THERE IS ALSO THE BUILT IN SENSE OF MISTRUST. ARE YOU HERE BECAUSE OF WHO I AM, YOU LOVE THE PERSON I AM, OR ARE YOU BASKING IN MY SHADOW OR GAINING IN SOME OTHER WAY BY MY FORTUNE.

Ted Simons: AND IF THEY STOP SHOWING UP, YOU LEARN WHY THEY WERE THERE IN THE FIRST PLACE. THAT'S A STRESSOR. THEY DON'T THINK YOU ARE A BIG ENOUGH STAR SO THEY STOP SHOWING UP.

Suniya Luthar: ABSOLUTELY. THEY ARE NO LONGER HERE. THAT'S GOT TO BE CRUSHING.

Ted Simons: SUICIDE FOR MIDDLE AGED MEN UP 43% SINCE 1986. WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?

Suniya Luthar: I'M NOT SURE THE MULTIPLE FACTORS. FINANCIAL PRESSURES NOT IN THE CASE OF THESE GENTLEMEN. THE SENSE OF VITALITY, LIFE SLIPPING AWAY. I'M NOT SURE WHAT THE UNDERLYING FACTORS ARE. PROBABLY DEPENDS ON THE DEMOGRAPHIC YOU ARE DEALING WITH. IT'S I HAVE LOST. IT'S DOWNHILL FROM HERE.

Ted Simons: YOU MENTIONED FINANCES AND UNEMPLOYMENT, THESE TWO GENTLEMEN DIDN'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT THAT TOO MUCH, HOWEVER DISAPPOINTED EXPECTATIONS, THAT'S A BIGGY CELEBRITY OR NOT, CORRECT?

Suniya Luthar: YES, IT IS. IT'S EASY TO GO FROM ONE STEP UP TO THE NEXT, BUT NOT FROM ONE STEP DOWN TO THE NEXT. TRYING TO MAINTAIN THE LEVEL OF LIFESTYLE YOU DID AT YOUR PEAK IS MORE DIFFICULT PERFORMING FOR 5,000 OPPOSED TO 50,000.

Ted Simons: AND THERE ARE THOSE THAT ARE NOT SYMPATHETIC TO THESE GENTLEMEN, CALLING THEM COWARDS FOR KILLING THEMSELVES. WHEN YOU HEAR THE PERSON IS TOP OF THE GAME, SUCCESSFUL, HAVE EVERYTHING AND KILL THEMSELVES, EVEN IF THEY DIDN'T HAVE EVERYTHING, SUICIDE IS OFTEN PORTRAYED AS COWARDICE, HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO THAT?

Suniya Luthar: WHO ARE WE TO JUDGE WHAT THE CHILD'S ANGUISH HAS BEEN THAT LENGTH OF TIME AND WHAT HE'S DEALT WITH. I DON'T BELIEVE THIS IS A HELPFUL WAY TO LOOK AT THIS AT ALL. OUR APPROACH IS TO HELP THE PERSON GET THE HELP THEY NEED. ANGUISH ISAGE WISH, PAIN IS PAIN. OUR RESPONSE NEEDS TO BE MORE AVAILABLE AND PROVIDE SERVICES, MAKE SURE THEY GET THE SERVICES THEY NEED.

Ted Simons: WHEN YOU HEAR ABOUT THE UNKIND RESPONSES, DO YOU NOTICE A BIAS AGAINST THE RICH AND FAMOUS WHEN IT COMES TO SUICIDE?

Suniya Luthar: NOT JUST SUICIDE, BUT UNHAPPINESS, YES. I HAVE WRITTEN ABOUT PEOPLE THAT ARE POOR AND THOSE THAT ARE AFFLUENT. THERE ARE THOSE ABOUT THE POOR, THAT THEY ARE LAZY.

Ted Simons: SO THAT EXISTS, THEN?

Suniya Luthar: ABSOLUTELY, IT DOES.

Ted Simons: LAST QUESTION, WHAT DO WE TAKE FROM THESE TWO SITUATIONS? IT FEELS FOREIGN. IT'S HARD TO GET A HOLD OF THIS. WHAT SHOULD PEOPLE TAKE FROM THE TWO INCIDENCES?

Suniya Luthar: CHILD ABUSE IS PROFOUND, WE MUST PREVENT THAT. EVERY CHILD NEEDS TO FEEL THERE IS AN ADULT TO GO TO WITH THAT LEVEL OF PAIN OR ANGUISH. IF IT'S NOT THE PARENT, BECAUSE OF THEIR OWN MENTAL ILLNESS, A TEACHER, CHURCH, MENTOR, COACH OR SOMETHING. THIS IS OUR RESPONSIBILITY AS A SOCIETY TO PRIORITIZE AND MAKE SURE EVERY CHILD HAS A HUMAN BEING HE OR SHE CAN GO TO WITH THAT LEVEL OF PAIN.

Ted Simons: THAT'S AN ENCOURAGING THOUGHT. IT'S GOOD TO HAVE YOU. THANK YOU FOR JOINING US. WE APPRECIATE YOU. THURSDAY ON "ARIZONA HORIZON," HEAR FROM BOTH SIDES ON THE EFFORT TO BLOCK EXPANSION OF ARIZONA'S VOUCHER SYSTEM FOR PRIVATE SCHOOLS. AND WE'LL VISIT WITH TEXAS TENOR MARCUS COLLINS. THAT'S THURSDAY AT 5:30 ON "ARIZONA HORIZON." THAT IS IT FOR NOW. I'M TED SIMONS. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US. YOU HAVE A GREAT EVENING. ºº ºº

"ARIZONA HORIZON" IS MADE POSSIBLE BY THE CONTRIBUTIONS FROM THE FRIENDS OF ARIZONA PBS, MEMBERS OF YOUR PBS STATION. THANK YOU.

Suniya Luthar: professor of psychology, Arizona State University

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