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The Andrew Koenig Story - By Chris Gearing

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Andrew Koenig Story: Suicide and Stereotypes

Dr. Sylvia Gearing

TXA 21 News, February 26, 2010

Today’s startling revelation of child actor, Andrew Koenig’s suicide has left millions of fans wondering what could have caused such a tragic event. Here to explain more about stereotyping, depression and suicide is TXA 21 Contributing Psychologist, Dr. Sylvia Gearing.

Anchor: We know that Andrew Koenig played what many considered a comical character for many years on the 80’s sitcom “Growing Pains.” His family and friends felt that Andrew never moved past the role and often felt “typecast” by those around him. In everyday life, we all deal with being typecast by others. How much does this kind of social “typecasting” contribute to low self-esteem and self-image?

Self Image: The social community is the primary place where people develop their self-image. How well do we play, communicate and learn with our peers has a lot to do with our view of our own adequacy in a variety of social competencies. Unfortunately, the community at large can be cruel and unfair since social perceptions are primarily simple, rigid and unyielding. In childhood, our beliefs about ourselves can become negative and we begin to typecast ourselves negatively. Such belief systems can follow us into adulthood.

Anchor: Is this kind of typecasting increasing?

The Age of Information Overload: We are inundated by too much information and stereotyping others is at an all time high. Unfortunately, these quick, unyielding judgments lack perspective and wisdom and we can label someone unfairly. Andrew may have felt that no one knew or wanted him but rather his character “Boner” on “Growing Pains.”

Rise of the Culture of Narcissism: Modern society is obsessed with individualism and personal expression. We now cultivate images on Facebook and Twitter that are detailed, exhibitionistic and packaged with flattering information. Personalized clothing and lower back tattoos are a physical reminder of just how “unique” some people are. In general, psychologists are noting the rise of a “culture of self-preoccupation” in modern society.

Trying To Make Sense Of It All: As a result of this avalanche of individualism, people are locking down on stereotypes in an effort to just make sense of all this social information. We decide about people more quickly without referencing the context of their behavior or their motivations. Our brains want to categorize and organize all of this new information into nice, neat packages.

Stereotyping and Depression: This increased stereotyping can lead to people losing their sense of themselves and their social role, especially if they have had negative experiences with others. By comparing themselves to others, they continue to assault their own sense of achievement and worth. They disregard other invaluable attributes and accomplishments and descend into clinical depression. Depression flourishes in such an environment and is now at epidemic levels.

Anchor: How does this depression begin?

The origins of depression are complex and are often biochemically generated. However, we do know that depression can come from growing sense of alienation stemming from an over reliance on the opinions of others. We call these acceptance beliefs and they can dominate a personality. Many child stars grow up with lavish praise and they may not develop an accurate view of themselves. They don’t understand that life successes come and go. They can become overly reliant on the approval or affirmation of others since they have not adequately developed a sense of themselves as one who succeeds and fails. They over emphasize performance and success without an accurate appreciation of other virtues.

Anchor: What tips do you have for our viewers who may be worried about depression or even suicide in those around them?

Depression Is Now An Epidemic: Depression has increased tenfold over the last century and strikes a full decade sooner than it did fifty years ago. In fact, The Center for Disease Control now reports that anti-depressants are the most prescribed drugs in America. Here are some warning signs if you are worried:

  • Increase in Intensity or Frequency of Angry Outbursts
  • Increased Withdrawal from Others
  • Increased Need for Sleep, Low Appetite
  • Tired, Sullen, Bored or Disinterested Mood
  • Risk-Taking Behavior
  • Drinking, Drugs, Promiscuous Sexual Activity
  • Inability to Cry or Too Much Tearfulness
  • Denial of Pain: Insistence on Handling Things Himself

Suicide Has Warning Signs: Here are warning signs for suicidal thoughts or tendencies:

  • Threatening to hurt or kill oneself or talking about wanting to hurt or kill oneself.
  • Looking for ways to kill oneself by seeking access to guns, pills or other means.
  • Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide when these actions are out of ordinary for the person.
  • Feeling hopeless.
  • Feeling rage or uncontrolled anger or feeling a need to seek revenge.
  • Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking.
  • Feeling trapped, or like there’s no way out of a situation.
  • Increasing alcohol or drug use.
  • Withdrawing from friends, family and society.
  • Feeling anxious, agitated or unable to sleep. Or, conversely, sleeping all the time.
  • Experiencing dramatic mood changes.
  • Seeing no reason for living or having no sense of purpose of life.

Finally, please take depression and suicide very seriously. If you are concerned about either of these issues in a loved one, seek help immediately from a psychologist.

For more information on this and Dr. Gearing, please visit


The National Mental Health Information Center

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

"Learned Optimism" by Martin Seligman, Ph.D.

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