Are celebrity role models

Make diseases public. Are stars good role models when it comes to health?

Yes and no, says the psychologist and book author Felicitas Heyne. That depends very much on the case. An analysis in interview form.

-When are stars positive health role models?

When celebrities change the image of an illness with their personal story - or correct misinformation or ignorance. Stars give normal people the courage not to be ashamed any longer, but to get help.

-Could you give us specific examples?

Positive examples are the many footballers, including Sebastian Deisler, who went public with the subject of depression in recent years. Because they not only made it clear that there is a huge difference between depression and “being in a bad mood”. They also showed that it is a disease that can affect anyone - even people who are very successful and are therefore under great pressure to perform. The British singer Robbie Williams belongs in the same corner.

-Are there positive role models when it comes to diseases other than depression?

Oh yeah! The story of the eating disorder of the now deceased Princess Diana was a few years ago. But: When Diana made her problems public at that time, suddenly a lot of other affected people dared to seek help. There was a real surge in demand from the relevant advice centers. It was probably only then that many of them realized that they had a problem.

-When are such public confessions more likely to have a negative impact?

It becomes problematic when the effect is less on the aspect of enlightenment, but rather goes in the direction of suggestion, in other words: You can and must be in control of your health at all times. This then runs in the course of a mania for optimization, which shapes our time in almost every respect. An example: Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie had her breasts amputated to reduce her high risk of breast cancer. The problem: she kept saying that she was doing this mainly because of her children. But what does this mean for women who may be just as concerned about breast cancer risk? That they are bad mothers themselves if they don't have their breasts amputated as a precaution?

-Does it really go down that way with those affected?

I have already seen many cancer patients that they blame themselves for their illness. And when the disease is beyond control, they feel even more guilty about thinking they did something wrong, didn't fight enough, or didn't exhaust all possibilities.

-Can only celebrities manage to get certain diseases out of the taboo corner?

No. But celebrities have it easier: they automatically have the public interest on their side. In addition, celebrities have experience in dealing with the media and can thus instrumentalize it better and more specifically than someone who has never done it.

-When does it become particularly critical to stage disease stories in public?

I found this oral sex fairy tale by US actor Michael Douglas really critical. He said in all seriousness that oral sex had caused throat cancer in him. I don't want to know what kind of fears that fueled! A disinformation for the public.

-In which cases would it have been just as good not to say a word about your suffering?

I'd rather answer that in principle: Maybe if it's something very exotic that occurs extremely rarely. Otherwise you probably don't have to think so much about whether to make something public, but rather how to make it public. If you are in public and are affected by the illness in your work or perhaps even have to withdraw, it is of course usually better to communicate the reason for this in order to avoid rumors.

-Maybe another example now?

Take ex-soccer professional Rudi Assauer or politician Oskar Lafontaine - Assauer suffers from Alzheimer's, Lafontaine was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the time.

It is important that all information is kept correct and factual, without dramatizing the whole thing ...

-However, the sufferings of celebrities are often automatically dramatized.

Yes, and that is exactly what increases fear! As humans, we are not particularly good at weighing risks realistically - as it would statistically correspond to the facts. After all: Most people will forget the dramatized celebrity stories relatively quickly - and with that this unreal fear usually disappears.

Interview: Barbara Nazarewska