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The similarities between Kirsten Dunst and Bella Hadid’s mental health struggles makes you wonder if attitudes have really changed at all?


By Sarah Finnan
10th Nov 2021

Bella Hadid / Instagram

The similarities between Kirsten Dunst and Bella Hadid’s mental health struggles makes you wonder if attitudes have really changed at all?

No one is immune to the grips of mental health woes and both actress Kirsten Dunst and model Bella Hadid have recently detailed their personal struggles with anxiety and depression. 

This week saw two celebrities – actress Kirsten Dunst and model Bella Hadid – open up about their mental health struggles. Almost 15 years apart, their stories are very similar yet it’s the differences that are striking. Struggling with the stigma around mental health yet able to maintain some level of privacy, Dunst admits she had sat in her feelings for too long before eventually seeking help for depression at a rehab centre in 2008, whereas Hadid, a child of the internet, feels the full force of the impact social media has had on her mental health.

Our understanding of mental health has greatly evolved in the intervening decade and yet so much of that is undone by the new technologies we surround ourselves with. Have our attitudes really changed or are we just finding new ways to censure mental struggles, especially in the lives of celebrities?

Repressed anger

Busy promoting her upcoming movie – Power of the Dog, in which she stars alongside Benedict Cumberbatch as a sensitive widow named Rose – Kirsten Dunst has opened up about how Hollywood and her old coping mechanisms took their toll on her mental health. 

Revisiting that time in her life for a new interview with The Sunday Times, the Golden Globe nominee admitted that her twenties were some of the hardest years of her life – an admission that will probably come as a surprise to some. Establishing herself as one to watch amongst the Hollywood elite, Dunst was thriving professionally… but her personal struggles made it difficult for her to enjoy such newfound success. 

“I feel like for most people, around 27, the sh*t hits the fan,” she said. “Whatever is working in your brain, you can’t live like that anymore mentally. I feel like I was angry. You don’t know that you are repressing all this anger, it wasn’t a conscious thing,” she pointed out. 

Already with a reputation for enjoying the partying side of things, that wasn’t necessarily a helpful coping mechanism either and Dunst conceded that “it’s hard to talk about such a personal thing”. “But it is important to share too. All I’ll say is that medication is a great thing and can really help you come out of something. I was afraid to take something and so I sat in it for too long. I would recommend getting help when you need it.” 

It may have taken her “too long” to speak up and get help, but the actress finally did and was prompted to seek treatment for depression at a Utah rehabilitation centre in 2008. Prioritising herself and working on her mental health was a transformative experience for Dunst who noted, “you become a different person; you grow up”. This isn’t the first time that she’s opened up about her past demons either. 

Asking questions

Previously touching on the subject in an interview with New York Magazine back in 2010, she said that she doesn’t think her story is unique. “I think most people in their twenties go through some sort of depression,” she confessed at the time. “If you’re successful at a young age, no matter the profession, there has to come a time when you reevaluate everything, what it means to you. Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life?”

The article claims that things began to unravel for her after the critical pasting received by Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. “I loved doing it, but it came with weird, hurtful criticism as well,” says Dunst, “and I took it to heart.” Hollywood can be quite tough on a person, that’s just the nature of her work, Dunst notes. “You grow up in a business where there’s a lot of people-pleasing. It’s hard to be firm in your own ground and not be afraid to rock the boat. I was swallowing a lot of stuff… in my relationships and personal life I absorbed things from other people, and then because of what I do for a living, I had to keep giving. It can dissolve you.”

“Kirsten definitely had OD’d on Hollywood and needed to get away,” her former co-star Ryan Gosling said. Get away she did, and thankfully it was something that Dunst was able to do privately (or as privately as is possible given who she is). Social media wasn’t really a thing back in 2008 and while there were paparazzi and tabloids to avoid, she could still get her affairs in order without them playing out under Instagram’s microscopic lens. 

Social media scrutiny

This was not the case for supermodel Bella Hadid, who also recently spoke of her own struggles. The daughter of Yolanda and Mohammed Hadid, Bella has been in the limelight pretty much from the word go and was already a natural in front of the camera by the time she had reached her teens. While Dunst also had her start at a very young age, what sets the two apart is that Bella was brought up on social media. Unlike Dunst, who could hide herself away to a certain extent, Bella has spent much of her twenties compiling a highly curated highlight reel of her life. One that is based completely on falsities though, and it’s the duality of such platforms that has made her experience arguably even more traumatic.

Ironically detailing her struggle on the place that she blames for having created such a toxic situation in the first place, Bella let fans in on her truth yesterday when she shared a clip of friend Willow Smith discussing how she often doesn’t feel “good enough”. Accompanying the post with a lengthy caption about how everything is not always as it seems, the youngest Hadid sister also uploaded several photos of herself crying alone in her room, admitting that sadly, this has been her reality “every day, every night for a few years now”. 

Appearance vs. reality

“Social media is not real. For anyone struggling, please remember that,” she urged followers. “Sometimes all you’ve gotta hear is that you’re not alone. So, from me to you, you’re not alone. I love you, I see you, and I hear you. Self-help and mental illness/chemical imbalance is not linear and it is almost like a flowing rollercoaster of obstacles… it has its ups and downs, and side to sides. But I want you to know, there is always light at the end of the tunnel, and the rollercoaster always comes to a complete stop at some point. (There is always room for it to start up again, but for me, it’s always been nice to know that even if it’s a few days, weeks, or months, it does get better, to some extent, even for a moment.)

“It took me a long time to get that in my mind,” she continued, “but I’ve had enough breakdowns and burnouts to know this: if you work hard enough on yourself, spending time alone to understand your traumas, triggers, joys, and routine, you will always be able to understand or learn more about your own pain and how to handle it. Which is all that you can ask of yourself. Anyways. Not sure why, but it feels harder and harder to not share my truth on here. Thank you for seeing me and thank you for listening. I love you.”

Similar stories

Kirsten and Bella’s experiences are different, but also… kind of the same. Both uber-successful women in their fields, it would be easy to look at their fame, accomplishments and supposed happiness and be envious. I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of thinking they have it all, marvelling at how they manage to hold it all together and look so effortless in doing so too. 13 years have passed since Dunst sought help to cope with her depression and though social media wasn’t a contributing factor, the stresses of modern life were – much as they now are for Hadid.  

Behind the scenes, both women were hiding their innermost feelings from the world. To movie aficionados, Kirsten Dunst was an up-and-coming actress with Hollywood at her feet. To the TikTok generation, Bella Hadid is one of the most beautiful women in the world with a wardrobe to kill for. But stardom and affluence don’t make you unsusceptible to the pitfalls of mental health – that is an unfortunate part of the human condition and one only open, honest conversation can really help destigmatise. 

Those conversations have, thankfully, become a much more prominent part of daily life but there’s still a long way to go. According to a recent internal Facebook leak, the tech company has long been aware of the harmful effects its sister site Instagram has on teenage girls… and yet, absolutely nothing has been done. Hundreds of thousands have left comments of support under Hadid’s post, but the blasé attitude of those in power – the ones who pull the strings and could really make a difference in how social media platforms are run – is a pointed reminder that mental health is still a taboo few are willing to tackle with gusto.