Last weekend at the Academy Awards, Will Smith educated the entire world about anger and mental health issues. I say the entire world because the Academy Awards is broadcast world wide and the entire world is discussing the incident.
The first thing Will Smith demonstrated is that as a society we still have issues handling mental health issues. When Will hit Chris Rock, there was a debate at the Academy Awards about how to handle the situation. No one appeared to have a clear idea about what to do. This debate has continued for a week after the Academy Awards. Will Smith issued an apology and resigned from the Academy, but people are still debating the situation. On April 18th, the Governor’s Board will meet to continue to debate the situation and how to handle it. Will Smith assaulted another person for no justifiable reason, we should not have to debate what the appropriate consequences are for several weeks. He issued an apology, resigned from the Academy and the next step should be that he seeks psychotherapy for anger management. Depending on how he responds in therapy should determine if he can ever attend the Academy Awards. Given his position as a role model, he should also volunteer at a teenager anger management program so he can help educate young teenage men that men do not need to use anger to be considered men.
An obvious lesson he demonstrated to everyone is that violence is never the answer regardless off your intentions. I understand he was trying to be supportive and protect his wife, who is dealing with alopecia, but hitting Chris Rock was not appropriate. Even if Chris Rock knew and Will Smith felt Chris Rock was being verbally abusive, he did not have to hit Chris Rock. Will Smith could have filed a complaint with the Academy or spoke to Chris Rock directly about the inappropriate joke. The point is violence was not appropriate and he had other options.
The other lesson Will Smith taught the world is that there are many people who have had violent childhoods or have been victims of violence and his violent outbursts upset these people too. Chris Rock had a violent childhood and said after Will Smith hit him, he felt like the 15 year old boy who use to get hit by his father. Will’s violent outburst triggered others too. Additionally, the people receiving their award could not enjoy the experience because the attention was on Will’s violent act. It also almost ruined the entire Academy Awards because people were shocked on not sure how to process the violent act they just witnessed. Because Chris Rock age regressed to 15 when his father would beat him, the 15 year old survivor skills turned on and he saved the show with his survival skills.
Will Smith also acknowledges that he had an physically abusive childhood too. Will Smith’s behavior demonstrated that if people do not receive the necessary psychotherapy for traumatic life events that these events can re-emerge when you least expect it and create problems. It appears this happened for Will Smith and for Chris Rock too. We have no idea how many people attending or watching the Academy Awards had past traumas re-emerge due to Will Smith’s behavior.
A very important lesson we learned is that many people who have had traumatic childhoods or traumatic events do not receive the necessary psychotherapy they need. They fail to receive the appropriate treatment because of the stigma associated with traumatic childhoods or people who experienced a traumatic event. We tend to blame the victims and make them feel worthless or weak because they were physically abused as a child or they were raped. From research we know victims of trauma are reluctant to report the trauma because they are ashamed. I have been treating trauma victims for over 25 years and the victim rarely reports the incident and they tend not to tell anyone in their lives. They are afraid others will blame them or view them as weak or defective. How can a 7 year old child who is being physically abused or sexually molested be weak, defective and how could they be responsible for the abuse? They can’t but this belief stops many from seeking psychotherapy.
Expanding on the fact that many victims are afraid of being blamed, this belief and fear is significantly increased in boys and men. The stereotype that men are supposed to be strong and can handle anything stops many boys and men from seeking psychotherapy. Many boys are sexually molested and raped. However, they seldom report the incident because they are boys. They should have been strong enough to stop a 45 year old man from raping him. Besides fearing they will be vowed as weak, they are also afraid people may think they are gay or they enjoyed it. As a result of this stereotype many boys and men, men who may even be gay, do not report traumatic events because they fear how others will judge them. It is this stereotype type which probably stopped Will Smith and Chris Rock from seeking psychotherapy for the childhood trauma they experienced. We need to eliminate this stigma associated with mental health because look at the damage this stereotype is creating for boys, men and our society in general.
One final lesson I will mention regarding the incident with Will Smith. If he wanted psychotherapy or if a teenage boy wanted Psychotherapy, they would have difficulty finding a psychotherapist. Insurance companies make it very difficult for families to use their medical insurance to cover psychotherapy. Many people have very high deductibles before they can use their medical insurance. Additionally, many insurance companies have a very limited number of therapists who they have agreed to pay. Therefore, most people have difficulties finding a therapist and most families don’t have $200 a session to pay for therapy. Additionally, the need for teenagers needing therapy has been significantly increasing since 2009 and the need has increased more since the pandemic. Since insurance companies make finding a therapist difficult and due to the significant increase in adolescents and children needing therapy, there are fewer therapists with openings. At my office we often receive 20 calls per day from people asking or even begging if we could see their teenager. Unfortunately, many families get tired or can’t get appointments for 3 months, as a result they give up on therapy. We need to invest into mental health care so more insurance companies cover therapy or there are other resources families can use to get the psychotherapy that they need. If we don’t with the stress due to the pandemic, families having difficulties affording food and the mass shootings which continue especially on the weekends, we will continue to see incidents like the one with Will Smith and the suicide rate will continue to increase for teenagers. Therefore, please contact your Congressmen and Senators and demand that they address the broken mental health system in the United States.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 25 years experience treating children, teenagers, trauma victims and first responders and he is certified to treat anger management and domestic violence. For additional information about his work visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/drrubino3 or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple.