Fame, fortune can’t prevent mental illness

Actor Robert Downey Jr. has a cinematic tie to Hoover Dam. Frequently referred to as a comeback story, I like to think of his life more as an American success story.

Downey Jr. has made headlines for his acting, his drug abuse, his time in prison and for who he has dated. However, it is his ambition to bring attention to mental health issues that is often overlooked. With March being Mental Health Awareness month, I want to share not only Downey Jr.’s tie to the Hoover Dam, but how he continues to be an advocate for mental wellness.

Back in 2000, People Magazine put Robert Downey Jr. on its cover with the headline “Bad to Worse.” The article focused on Downey Jr.’s addiction to heroin and a fresh string of arrests. The magazine spoke to his stepmother, Rosemary Rogers Downey, who cited a diagnosis of bipolar disorder as the cause for his behavior.

Formally known as manic depressive disorder, bipolar is a mental illness featuring severe high and low moods and changes in sleep, energy, thinking and behavior, according to WebMD.com.

Like many mental illnesses, Downey Jr.’s bipolar disorder impacted his work, his family, his finances and his fame. He was once considered uninsurable and his Academy Award-nominated talent didn’t matter; the actor became unemployable.

Downey Jr. ended up getting help to treat his addiction and his bipolar disorder, and his life and career started to fall back into place. Actor and producer Ben Stiller took a chance on him with the 2008 hit “Tropic Thunder” and the actor was hired on to do “The Soloist,” which came out in 2009. “The Soloist” sheds light on mental illness and homelessness and is based on the true story of Los Angeles Times newspaper columnist Steve Lopez and Nathaniel Ayers, a homeless schizophrenic man who attended Julliard. The movie depicts how their lives intertwined.

“The Soloist” features several members of the Lamp Community (now known as The People Concern), a housing and care center for the mentally ill. It was with this project that Downey Jr. really started to take on issues of mental illness and addiction, helping to change not only his own life through education, resources and self-care, but to also give back to others. It is also during this time that he was contracted for the “Iron Man” and “Sherlock Holmes’” movie series.

During 2010, a movie titled “Due Date” premiered in theaters. Downey Jr. stars opposite of comedian Zach Galifianakis and a part of this movie is filmed at the Hoover Dam. Downey Jr. plays a man dealing with anxiety and rage issues. He also has a brief interaction with comedian Brody Stevens, who plays a limo driver in the movie.

Many people in Boulder City know of my history within the public relations business and through that history I made friends in Hollywood. Downey Jr. and Galifianakis are two of them, but so was Stevens. Stevens also struggled to gain control over his bipolar disorder and sadly he took his own life last month. He left behind his family and friends, like Galifianakis, who did everything humanly possible to help him realize how wonderful and valued he truly was. Sadly, Stevens’ mental illness wouldn’t let him see his own worth.

The emotions for me are still hard to deal with. Last month I stood on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood and stared at the various comedy venues that Stevens worked in. All of them honored his life by putting the saying “We Enjoyed It,” a twist on one of Stevens’ favorite sayings, on their marquees.

My Throwback Thursday movie recommendations are “The Soloist” and “Due Date.” Mental illness issues don’t care who you are or what you have. You can literally be known as Iron Man, have fame and fortune, and still have to deal with issues of self-doubt, self-hate, anxiety and depression. There is help available, but sometimes the simple act of asking for it can be the hardest, yet most liberating, thing a person can do. If you’re struggling today, know that things can turn around for the better and that you are not alone.

Rest in peace my friend Brody Stevens, I enjoyed it!

Tanya Vece is a ghostwriter and independent marketing specialist. She can be reached on Instagram @TanyaLVece.

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