Waking up yesterday morning to read about child star Sawyer Sweeten’s shocking suicide brought so much sadness to our hearts. Click here if you missed it! Sweeten, who began his acting career at 16 months old reportedly did not show any signs of being troubled and to his family, friends and fans, the tragic news was extremely devastating. Sawyer with his twin brother, Sullivan, and older sister, Madylin were all child stars on Everybody Loves Raymond.
However, the Sweeten twin is unfortunately not the first former child star to commit suicide. Rizzoli and Isles star Lee Thompson Young killed himself with a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 29, while Kids star Justin Pierce hanged himself at the age of 25. Who’s the Boss? star Jonathan Brandis also hanged himself at the age of 27.
Sawyer Sweeten’s sudden death however brings back sad memories of all these child stars that previously committed suicide and raises questions on the psychological impact, if any, that childhood stardom had on them later in life.
So, really, what is it about child stars that puts them at risk for being troubled and sometimes suicidal later in life? Read the views of some psychologists:
“They often go from the height of fame to the depth of living without it,” says trauma psychologist Charles Figley, chair of disaster and mental health at Tulane University. “It’s more than the rest of us have to face.”
“These kids are kept from the developmental skill building that most kids go through to make them capable adults,” says clinical psychologist John Mayer. “Such things as learning about rejection, loss, transitions, and the process of identity development are in limbo while the production companies unknowingly shelter them from those natural struggles a child or teen needs to go through.”
As a result, he says, these children do not receive the normal coping mechanisms that will assist them in surviving the ups and downs of life as they get older.
“They become ill-equipped, often dysfunctional adults,” Mayer says. “Many of these kids become adults with ‘holes’ in their development, and, at worst, they are emotional and social disasters.”
Figley also thinks that the struggles that child stars are facing now is a generational issue because “we have more mental health challenges now than we ever had before,” he says. When you add that to the pressures of stardom or loss of it after growing up with fame, that may just be a potential recipe for disaster.
A former child star who frizzles out of limelight is usually at a greater risk of feeling lost and sometimes suicidal because their self-worth and self-perception could have been tied up in their fame, but as Figley pointed out, of course, not all child stars become troubled or suicidal. Even though we often hear about the tragic side of childhood fame, most child stars turn out just fine, despite the odds.
“The tenacity and resilience of these children despite all of these enormous pressures is impressive,” he says.
Former child star Christy Carlson Romano, who starred in Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You at age 12, summarized the feelings of what many people who became famous as little kids may have in mind:
— ChristyCarlsonRomano (@ChristyRomano) April 24, 2015
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