Is the Media to Blame for Charlie Sheen’s Behavior?

March 10, 2011 Natasha Tracy

Last week I waded into Charlie Sheen territory. It was, perhaps, a touch more eel-infested than I had anticipated but life is surprising like that. Yes, I said Sheen is going through a manic episode as part of a mental illness. (And no, I still haven’t become a doctor.) Let’s say for the moment, I’m right.

Since I made my case for compassion for Sheen and mental illness, over scorn and ridicule, people have made the case back that it’s the media’s fault Sheen’s behavior is this out of control.

I don’t think so.

Sheer Might Not Be On Cocaine, He Might be on the Drug Media

Last week I noted Sheen had passed three drug tests before his rants, so it appears that he is (or was) drug-free. But I didn’t consider that no one had screened him for media poisoning.

I think it’s understandable that for some people the media is like a drug. I wouldn’t know myself, I have no meda value, but certainly Sheen is gold. And it must be quite a heady feeling knowing that every incoherienct conglomeration of letters texted, tweeted or spoken will be broadcast, and apparently cared about, worldwide.

Sounds drug-like. Except of course that “imbibing” it cannot, by definition, produce addiction (physical tolerance, withdrawal, the kind of things actual drugs do).

People in a (Hypo)Mania Episode Want to Talk to Everyone

It’s not unusual for someone in mania or hypomania to want to talk to anyone who will listen. And really, if you were “…at the dead epicentre of every single moment,” you’d probably want to spread the word too. The media didn’t plant that need in his head. If anything, mental illness did.

mp9004017871The Media Shouldn’t Broadcast Sheen

People suggest either:

  1. The media shouldn’t broadcast Sheen, thus curbing his attention-seeking ways
  2. The media shouldn’t broadcast Sheen out of respect for the fact that he is ill, not a spectacle

I'm not sure these people have ever been in a check-out line.

Media Companies will Always Broadcast Sheen

First off, there is no evidence that denying him media coverage would do anything. The world still has Twitter and YouTube and, well, the internet. If the guy wants to talk, he’ll talk.

And you better believe every time Sheen texts a reporter, it’s going to turn into a story. Every time he calls into a show, it’s going to be a story. Every time he wants an on-camera interview he’s going to get one. It’s about the money honey. The media isn’t his mommy or his friend or his wet nurse. They are a money-making entity. Obviously the choppers flying over Sheen’s house make no bones about such things.

(I didn’t say I like it, I’m just saying that’s reality. Every organization on the planet does what it takes to make money. Media is no different.)

Granted, every now and then a line comes up the media won’t cross, but with celebrities, that is a filament line invisible in most lights. Whole agencies have sprung up to ignore than very line.

CB062571It’s Unreasonable to Expect the Media not to Broadcast Incredible, Salable Material

It’s their job to broadcast (in many cases) dirt. Dirt on celebrities. It’s what they do. They do it because it sells. If you don’t like it, then don’t read, watch, Tweet or anything else about a celebrity. And make sure you get a couple million other people to join you.

And honestly, I think it’s pretty normal to be curious about this behavior. The thing Sheen’s behavior shows you, for the first time, is a really accurate look at a mental illness, uncut. And that doesn’t have to be all bad. (Even if it very well might be all bad for Sheen.)

What Can We Learn From Charlie Sheen?

Given that Sheen can talk to whomever he wants, and given the media will broadcast anything he does, how does anyone find anything compassionate or useful in it?

  1. I would suggest the media’s prime responsibility in this situation is to frame the issue in a real, compassionate, informative light. “Oh, look at the crazy person,” is not that light. Real information on what people are seeing and real information on real mental disorders can put into context what is happening. People don’t know what they’re looking at. Most people have never seen it before. The media could use that as an opportunity to put Sheen’s behavior into the context of mental illness in general. (How many people have acted just like Sheen, but without the microphones?)
  2. The rest of us out here can spread compassion. You can talk about it, you can watch it, whatever you like, but with the understanding that this person is living, what are likely the worst moments of his life, in front of the camera. And the next time he, or others around you, have these moments, use them to broaden your understanding of mental illness and compassion.

Neither of these things will change the world, but I think it’s the best we (as the outsiders) can get from a very bad situation.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2011, March 10). Is the Media to Blame for Charlie Sheen’s Behavior?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 22 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

Dorie Auge
April, 2 2011 at 2:30 am

He's fooling everyone and laughing all the way to the bank.

sarah louise
March, 14 2011 at 11:05 am

Thank you. I too remember those days early in my diagnosis when a friend finally told me, just read your Bible until I get there for dinner. (I had called her 3 times at work to change the menu.)
And I spent the afternoon writing things, circling things in my Bible, because I felt I knew things. Though I still find those marks in my Bible, that was the best thing my friend did. She gave me a safe outlet.
I am so grateful that Twitter and blogs didn't exist when I was diagnosed, because I would have been on there too. I pray that someone can break through to Charlie and tell him to do something quiet (I imagine it will not be reading his Bible until dinner...)
And yes, we have no idea if Charlie is bipolar or it is drug damage. But for those of us that have been there, we remember those days.

March, 13 2011 at 12:56 pm

nice comment Thom1 and excellent point at the end

March, 10 2011 at 5:12 pm

On every point, I agree with Meredith. The Media is only too happy to chronicle the breakdown of a celebrity; it has few other functions. Someone's gaining weight, another's losing too much. Just now, a headline on my own salacious talkshow: "Megan Fox doesn't know how to gain weight." Pardon my synchronicity, but I noticed Merideth posted @ exactly 5:22pm, the same time I told the police outside the bathroom door while holed up in a post office in 1994, that I couldn't come out until the Ascencion of the World. The place had been evacuated, as the workers on the loading dock has seen me going in there with a satchel, but at least it was before 9//11, the cops waited patiently for 5:22 then took me to the ER.
But I digress: I just hope someone in Mr. Sheen's inner circle will stand up and deliver him to someone who can help.

March, 10 2011 at 11:22 am

I'm glad to see you addressing this as well. It seems several Mental health people are dismayed by diagnosing from afar and media greediness and resulting stigma perpetuation. See:
Damaging, Irresponsible, Myopic: The news and popular media’s relentless coverage of the Charlie Sheen Omnimedia Extravaganza has been all these things. The question is not what is going on with Sheen’s behavior. The question is what effect is produced by the constant coverage. I am a bipolar patient who moderates a forum for the high-functioning mentally ill under a pseudonym due to the persistent stigma surrounding my disorder. The combined mockery and speculation regarding Sheen is doing neither me nor my cohort any favors. The media is furthering the misunderstanding of mental illness and the resulting stigma. Personally, this misrepresentation is causing me to flashback to a time of my own grandiosity, when I was both omnipresent and omnipotent, when the universe happened because I gave permission. With it comes narcissism, self-indulgence, and destruction — it once destroyed my life and the lives of many others. I urge you to look beyond entertainment, ratings, and profit, and see the damage you are doing.…

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