Johnny Deep made his first screen appearance as a victim of a supernatural serial killer in the movie A Nightmare on Elm Street. He starved in the hit TV series 21 Jump Street and was a teenage heartthrob by the late 1980s. In the 1990s, he started the transition to more serious roles. Depp, now 57, has had a long and varied career with significant critical and commercial success.
Last month, in a defamation lawsuit against The Sun, a tabloid newspaper, shocking details emerged about the actor’s personal life. The paper had referred to him as a “wife-beater,” after Depp’s former wife, American actress Amber Laura Heard, said he had abused her on 12 different occasions. During the defamation trial, Heard revealed shocking details about Depp’s mental health and substance abuse.
“His body is covered in scars. I asked him about it. He told me various stories of doing it to himself when in pain, and he couldn’t handle it anymore,” Heard testified. “I saw him do it to himself or threatened me with it sometimes.”
Depp had suggested in a May 1993 article that he had struggled with what is often referred to as cutting or self-mutilation. People had assumed he had overcome this severe problem.
But when Heard secretly recorded Depp asking her to cut him–and became agitated when she failed to comply–it was evident that Depp still struggles with the need to self-soothe by engaging in destructive behaviors, specifically the dangerous activity of cutting.
“Then, suddenly, it morphed into the general population, to the point where it was affecting successful kids with money. That’s when the research funding started to flow, and we’ve gotten a better handle on what’s happening.”
For those who engage in self-injurious behaviors, their symptoms can include head banging, severe scratches, burning (with lit matches, cigarettes, or heated, sharp objects such as knives), cutting, and more.
According to professionals who specialize in treating people suffering from this problem, paradoxically, sufferers such as Depp and others are not trying to kill themselves. Still, instead, they are trying to numb the deep psychological pain.
“Acts of suicide and self-injury are different in numerous ways. They are different from intent, method, frequency, cognition, aftermath, and other features,” Walsh told author Christy Matta Risty in her article Self Injury: An Interview with Barent Walsh, Ph.D.
“For example, the intent of most people who attempt suicide is to permanently escape misery, intense, persistent psychological pain. The intent for most acts of self-injury is to reduce emotional distress.”
Bestselling author Gala Darling confirms these ideas on her website. “I wasn’t just angry, I was also depressed, & my emotions would swing back & forth between rage & sadness, constantly, all the time,” said Darling, author of the book Radical Self-Love: A Guide To Loving Yourself And Living Your Dreams.
“I didn’t know how to deal with what I was feeling, so one night, I took a craft knife & pressed it into my leg. It didn’t go intense, but it left a scar that I still have today. It also provided me with an adrenaline rush that then lulled me into a sense of calm, which made my crazy feelings go away. For a while, anyway.”
People who deal with this psychological issue typically suffer from others as well.
During Depp’s defamation trial against the tabloid, he admitted that at one time, he had spent more than $30,000 a month on wine and that he had engaged in heavy drug use, including marijuana, cocaine, LSD, ecstasy, magic mushrooms, and prescription drugs.
Depp’s previous drug abuse wasn’t new information; he had previously told people that at the age of 11, he started to take his mother’s pills. By age 14, he said, he had used “every kind of drugs there were.”
On average, the onset age for cutting behavior is between 15 and 24. Young people are more likely to experience this if they have mental health issues or a personality disorder, have experienced immigration detention or spent time in the juvenile justice system, have been removed from their parents’ care, placed in foster care, or live in rural and remote areas. Those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex are also more prone to cutting.
In 2019, music icon Lady Gaga revealed to Oprah Winfrey during an interview for Elle magazine that she suffered from this dangerous disorder. “I’ve actually not opened up very much about this, but I think it’s an important thing for people to know and hear: I was a cutter for a long time.” Over the years, many celebrities have admitted to cutting, bringing awareness, and fighting the stigma associated with mental health issues of any kind.
Dr. Marsha Linehan pioneered the most effective treatment for self-injurious behaviors, called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). In 2010, Linehan revealed that she had suffered from cutting and a personality disorder for the first time. Her admission was shocking to those in the mental health profession.
“So many people have begged me to come forward, and I just thought — well, I have to do this. I owe it to them. I cannot die a coward,” she told author By Benedict Carey for his article Expert on Mental Illness Reveals Her Own Fight. “I honestly didn’t realize at the time that I was dealing with myself,” she continued. “But I suppose it’s true that I developed a therapy that provides the things I needed for so many years and never got.”
Treatment for self-injurious behaviors often includes medication, dialectical behavior therapy, cognitive therapy, mindfulness training, and creating and managing a support system. Johnny Depp has money, status, and power, so it may seem like his recovery should be easy.
But celebrities have struggles too, and recovery can appear bleak for many reasons. As a direct result of their mental illness, the entertainment world has lost: Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Prince, Amy Winehouse, and many other beloved actors and musicians.
Johnny Deep is an outstanding actor whose movies have included Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Public Enemies, and most famously, Edward Scissorhands. Hopefully, Depp doesn’t end up being his own Public Enemy, losing his life by trying to be his own real-life Scissorhands.