Portrait of L’Wren Scott, fashion designer and former model.
I did this portrait of the recently passed Ms Scott, because her (assumed) suicide and people’s reaction to it compel me to say something.
(Disclaimer: This article reflects my personal views on the matter. I apologize if they offend; I certainly mean to disrespect to the deceased. I am not a medical or mental health professional. I am not associated with Ms Scott. As of writing, most outlets are calling her passing a suicide, though that has not yet been confirmed. There are no confirmed medical reports stating she was suffering from depression, or that she decided to end her life because of her business.)
Until the news broke, I didn’t know anything about her. From what I read, she was a former model turned fashion designer. She was successful with her clothes (or so it seemed). She was dating Mick Jagger. Her friends were supposed to be the rich and the beautiful. After her death, reports surfaced that her business had not been doing so well, and was making a loss. I don’t know if more reports are coming out, but this seems to be the main justification for her suicide.
Now, I don’t think it is as cut and dry as that. Ms Scott’s passing is a very sad thing, and I feel it is demeaning to her to simply boil it down to bad business.
What the press and public seem to fail to understand is this: Ms Scott was a successful, high profile creative professional who was probably suffering from major depression. She may have hid it well, and with good reason:
Our society has more tolerance and forgiveness and someone with alcohol or drug issues than it does for someone suffering from depression.
Consider it for a moment. How many stories have you read where someone goes to alcohol or drug rehab and champions their demons? Media has made such stories heroic. We congratulate survivors, celebrate their victories. Conversely, how many stories are there about people battling depression? Of those, how many do we celebrate as victories? More often than not the stories linked to depression end in tragedy, and we are quick to speak about it in hushed tones, afraid or embarrassed to face it.
As a creative professional, I do think that our industry is particularly judgemental about how we handle depression and other mental health issues. Depression is not seen as a health issue; it is seen as a weakness, a flaw, a possibly contagious miasma that is bad for business. Creatives are allowed to be moody and a little crazy. Maybe they even expected to be that way. But creatives dealing with major depression have to keep it quiet and hidden, because showing too much means you’re done. A washout. Uncool. Too dangerous to be associated with.
I do think creative professionals are particularly susceptible to mental illness. We tend to invest a lot in our work, and in doing so, we come to define ourselves with our work. When we can’t do good work, or when our work is not well received or rewarded, we are affected, because it is by extension as aspect of ourselves. Unfortunately, instead of recognizing this a manageable problem, society romanticizes depression within the creative community (just think Van Gogh), and by doing so trivializes the real pain artists who suffer depression have to live with.
People think depression is about being sad. I think depression is more like watching all your hopes wash away. It leaves you with this emptiness and exhaustion (if you are interested, writer/cartoonist Allie Brosh has a great (and morbidly funny) blog post where she describes her depression in great detail). Eventually it makes you question why you aren’t already dead. I don’t think people commit suicide on a whim; I do think a lot of suicides happen because a person has come to the conclusion that all other options are closed, and that is the only choice left. In most cases this isn’t true, and that’s the worst part about depression. Jenny Lawson said it best (although I learned it through Wil Wheton) - depression lies. The problem is that if you don’t have the tools to manage the problem, it is very difficult to sort the lies from the truth.
Ms Scott may have hid her problems well, though I find it hard to believe that none of the people around her would have suspected anything amiss. For the people that do notice, it can difficult to figure out how to offer help, especially if the person hides away his or her problems from others. We aren’t conditioned, by school or by the media, about how to reach out and help those who suffer from depression.
I am sure many people will come to the same wrong conclusions about Ms Scott’s suicide: that she was weak, selfish, stupid, unreligious, disrespectful to herself. They won’t see her as a strong, creative and capable woman who also might have been mentally unwell, who might have needed help.
Any suicide is sad and tragic. But I hope, that through this sad event, more people will open up about discussing depression as a real illness, especially in the creative industries. It shouldn’t be this stigma that sufferers must hide in order to get by. It should not be this unspoken bad habit. It especially should not be an ‘artist thing’ that happens almost by virtue of creativity. Depression is real, and depression is an illness. We in the creative industries need to learn to accept it and figure out how to better deal with it, so that are can protect ourselves, our friends and family from its harmful effects.