L’Wren Scott, fashion designer and girlfriend of Mick Jagger hung herself in an exclusive Chelsea apartment last week, creating shockwaves within the fashion industry and celebrity circles. It was later revealed that Scott was $6 million in debt and was on the brink of shutting down her fashion empire before she took her own life.
While it is obvious Scott was responsible for taking her own life, there is another culprit at large that isn’t so easy to define, but is ultimately responsible for killing her long before her time.
Scott lived in a world filled with luxury, status and expectation, a lethal combination that her fragile sense of self was clearly incapable of handling. From what we know about the last few months of her life, rather than accept her professional failures, she let the shame destroy her. As the Telegraph reported:
Her close friend and fashion critic of the New York Times, Cathy Horyn, has said that Scott was planning to announce the closure of the company at the end of this month after realising that her losses were mounting with no sign of recovery. Horyn says Scott had withdrawn from friends in recent months and had been severely depressed, while others say she was embarrassed about the scale of her debts.
Scott’s desire to keep up with the Joneses (or the Jaggers, Armanis, and Jacobs in her case) was so crucial to her sense of self, that admitting weakness and vulnerability were out of the question. For the fashion icon, it was either success or death, and nothing in between.
Scott’s untimely death has much to do with her own psychological makeup, but it has more to do with a deadly disease infecting Western societies – one that convinces human beings that their only purpose in life is to attain status and wealth. Scott died in a classic case of Affluenza – the lethal social condition that drives people to such despair that the only way out is to take their own life.
It is a deliberate disease, foisted upon us by our economic system that promotes selfishness as the sole mechanism behind our society. As the psychologist and author of the book ‘Affluenza’, Oliver James says, “‘It is absolutely critical for everybody to go around feeling miserable, filling the emptiness with commodities, dealing with misery by trying to give yourself short-term boosts.” Those short term boosts were the celebrity parties Scott attended, the media attention she got for dating Mick Jagger, and the notoriety of her clothing line. As Scott wrote on her Instagram account just days before her death: “Fashion is the armour to survive the reality of life.”
Ultimately, that armor was not strong enough.
Would Scott have taken her own life had she been imbued with a different set of values – ones that put friendship, community, or spirituality before everything else? We obviously cannot say for sure, but happy, balanced people don’t define themselves by the amount of money and status they have, and don’t kill themselves over issues that are, at the end of the day, completely inconsequential. But in our society, those happy, balanced people are fast in decline. According to The World Health Organization, suicide rates have increased 60 percent over the past 50 years, most prominently in the developing world. Since 1988, there has been an astonishing 400% rise in the use of anti-depression medication in America, and more shockingly, depression is still chronically under diagnosed and treated.
It is amazing to me that someone would take their own life due to professional failure. But that is because I have worked hard at protecting myself from the disease of Affluenza. While a portion of my self image comes from what I do, my belief that human beings are far more than the sum of their professional achievements and social status provides a healthy buffer when things start to go wrong.
As an entrepreneur, I know how psychologically tough it can be having your own company and ‘brand’. There are expectations and assumptions placed upon you that are often so far from the truth that you can’t help but feel like a fraud. You have an idea, or image of yourself and brand, and you go out and tell the world about it; and very often, the world does not listen. To many, you can never admit this, or show weakness, because you must always project an image of confidence and success. But I have learned to accept my weaknesses, and try to be honest about them, even if it is at the expense of the image I am trying to portray. Because for me, it is a matter of mental health. If the image I project has nothing to do with who I am, it will inevitably lead to disaster. I speak to friends and family about the struggles I have running my own business, and have found it tremendously helpful to know that those closest to me don’t care how much money I have, or how influential my website is. They just care about me, and want me to succeed to see me happy. Most importantly, I have made sure that what I do is not who I am, and not essential in making me happy.
What kind of culture must Scott have been in for her to believe that fashion was her only protection from reality? The cut throat industry she devoted her life to is an extreme example of what has gone wrong with western society. With its relentless focus on outward appearance, it has taken beauty and design to an extraordinarily unhealthy place where it replaces the most important elements that make life worth living.
While L’Wren Scott appeared to have it all, really, she had nothing.
To understand why someone like Scott took her own life, it is not good enough to only examine her as a person. Scott existed within a society, and that society imposed a values system on her. We know that as a society, the wealthier we become, the unhappier we are, making the pursuit of material wealth and status all the more pointless. Scott was caught in a vicious cycle of despair – she believed success would make her happy, reinforcing the notion that failure had to make her sad. The more she failed, the sadder she became, and without any comprehension that her life was worth more than her clothing line, she felt there was only one way out.
Of course there were many other ways out, but the society we live in told her otherwise.
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Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.