Whether the goal is to promote understanding or to find a cure, awareness campaigns are crucial for health conditions of all kinds.
But not all health conditions get their fair share of the spotlight, regardless of how many people might be impacted by them. Last month, that changed for three conditions.
None of these conditions got their increased attention for positive reasons, though; each one was caused by a shocking event involving a celebrity.
Hailey Bieber suffers a mini-stroke
On March 12, Hailey Bieber, a young model and the wife of Justin Bieber, suffered stroke-like symptoms and was rushed to the hospital, where it was discovered she had a blood clot in her brain. Fortunately, the mini-stroke wasn’t fatal.
In addition to concerns from fans, there were also questions. Bieber is young and seems to be in good health, so how could this happen? The health scare shed light on the fact that strokes can happen to young people, and, while rare, may become more prevalent due to Covid. Major media outlets like Good Morning America shared the story alongside symptoms and signs of a mini-stroke.
Will Smith slaps Chris Rock at the Oscars
We’re all still reeling over “the slap” that took place onstage at the Academy Awards on March 27. But while there have been many, MANY takes on it, one indisputably positive thing does seem to have come from the situation: new dialogue around alopecia, the condition that inspired Rock’s comment about Smith’s wife’s baldness - and subsequently inspired Smith to smack Rock in her defense.
Since “the slap”, countless websites, magazines, and TV segments have spotlighted alopecia, often interviewing people, especially women, who suffer from the condition. These interviews give valuable and honest insight into what it’s like to live with hair loss. One thing that comes up again and again is that mockery seems incredibly common.
For instance, designer Sheila Bridges shares, "I rarely make it through the week without someone saying something that’s very, very insensitive.” British comedian Matt Lucas discusses being astonished that a major British newspaper continues to call him “egghead”, despite being aware that he has alopecia.
Now, with alopecia in the spotlight, many members of the alopecia community feel hope: Maybe their condition will get more funding for research into a cure. Maybe people they encounter in everyday life will stop looking at them strangely or making fun of them.
Hopefully, some good can come from the violence at the Oscars. For now, whether or not they’re shocked by Smith’s behavior that night, many women with the condition seem to be taking a breath of fresh air. “I'm ditching my wig in public,” longtime alopecia sufferer Laura Mathias told the BBC. Mathias reasons that since more people are now aware of alopecia, she’s less likely to get strange or pitying looks.
Bruce Willis’s family announces he’s retiring from acting due to aphasia
Movie fans around the world were devastated on March 30, when several members of actor Bruce Willis’s family shared messages on social media announcing that the star, who’s been a presence on big and small screens since the 1980’s, was retiring. It’s not a personal choice by the actor, but an obligation brought on by a medical condition called aphasia.
As this LA Times article points out, aphasia affects nearly 2 million Americans, making it “more common than Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis”. And yet, the condition is so little-known that 86.2% of respondents to a recent survey had no idea of the meaning of the word.
Since Willis’s retirement, the condition has become common knowledge, from what it is and what causes it, to whether or not there’s a cure.
While Willis’s situation isn’t likely to have a happy, Hollywood ending, raising awareness for any condition does mean hope. Making the public aware of an issue could lead to increased funding and research. The LA Times article, for instance, reports that since going public with his Parkinson’s diagnosis in 1998, Michael J. Fox’s foundation has raised more than $1 billion for research in the hopes of finding a cure.
What can we learn from these three celebrity health incidents?
One takeaway is that it might take celebrity and shock value to get a health condition noticed on a large scale.
This, of course, isn’t an easy or ethical way to raise awareness.
But there’s something else that ties these three incidents together: they showed us honest emotional moments.
Sure, not all of us are models with a famous musician husband like Hailey Bieber, but reading her social media posts about her experience, as well as supportive posts by her husband, brought us closer to them and maybe made us think of similar reactions to things we’ve experienced.
The Will Smith/Chris Rock slap is a notorious incident that will go down in pop culture history, but it’s also the story of someone doing something ill-advised for love, or of someone standing up to a bully. We’ve all been there, in one way or another, or know someone who has.
Bruce Willis’ family’s admission of his condition put the actor in a vulnerable place, just as many of our loved ones might be.
As we’ve covered before, today’s consumers and patients want to feel authenticity in medical advertising and awareness campaigns. In a way, the reactions to these incidents are additional proof of that desire.
But maybe the most important takeaway is that some good can come out of even the darkest moments. Hopefully the impact of these three incidents will last far longer than a matter of weeks or the sting of a slap. Hopefully they’re a jumping-off point for increased awareness, research, and tolerance for three different health conditions.
Contact Our Writer – Alysa Salzberg