On Thursday night’s “Jersey Shore,” viewers were given a glimpse inside Vinny Guadagnino’s lifelong (though closely guarded) struggle with clinical anxiety — a battle that finally forced him to leave the show and return home to Staten Island.
It was a decidedly somber moment on a show that more often than not focuses solely on good times. But Guadagnino’s condition shouldn’t come as all that much of a shock: according to estimates, 15 to 25 percent of the population suffer from some form of anxiety disorder, and most of the time, those conditions remain undiagnosed. Which is why the “Shore” star going public with his personal struggle is such a big deal. Perhaps by doing so, he will inspire others to do the same.
“I was really struck by the honesty and the candor. I didn’t expect that to be on national television,” Dr. Sue Varma, a Manhattan psychiatrist and faculty member at NYU’s Langone Medical Center, told MTV News. “As private as it is, if you’re a public figure like he is, and you’re dealing with an issue, you can bring awareness to it. It will help other people suffering from [an anxiety disorder] to come out without fear of being ostracized. It will get people talking and get people help.”
Varma said that many of the thoughts and feelings Guadagnino discussed on the episode are all fairly common to those suffering from an anxiety disorder. And his anxiety was only exacerbated by his hard-charging Seaside Heights surroundings.
“You hear Vinny talking about not having his family around, not having a regular sleep schedule, going out a lot, drinking … routine is really big, sleep is huge. For every psychiatric disorder, sleep is a symptom, either sleeping too little or sleeping too much,” she said. “Often you’ll hear somebody say they’re having ruminating thoughts, they’re obsessing, they’re thinking about the same things over and over again, and often that keeps them from falling asleep.
“People who are anxious tend to stay in their head, because it helps them avoid their emotions. As long as they’re thinking, they feel they’re doing something to prevent something bad from happening. And that disconnects them from their surroundings,” she continued. “And a lot of people who have anxiety also have depression, and depression brings about changes in appetite, loss of concentration, memory problems and, in severe cases, even suicide. You become isolated … you lose your sense of pleasure in life. And anxiety, when it’s untreated, when somebody feels it’s out of control, that can bring on depression.”
And the fact that Guadagnino managed to keep his anxiety a secret for so long doesn’t surprise Varma one bit; after all, millions suffer from similar disorders, and more often than not, their friends and family aren’t even aware of it. Or, if they are, they’re not sure how they can help.
“All psychiatric conditions are medical conditions, so in the way people have diabetes or high blood pressure, that needs to be taken seriously, they have real biological circumstances, so does anxiety or depression,” she continued. “It’s a medical disorder, and people really think it’s a mood, a phase that you’re in, a funk that you’re in, and you can just snap out of it. You can’t. Anxiety disorders are really an umbrella, and there’s seven or eight major categories that fall under that. People who have it are integrated amongst us … there are plenty of people that you’re working with that you don’t realize have it, because they seem so functional. And having seen previous episodes, I wouldn’t have realized [Guadagnino had a disorder] until he came forward.”
Varma added that there are a variety of treatments available to those battling anxiety disorders — but the key is getting those with conditions to admit they need help. That’s always been the biggest battle, though now that Guadagnino has gone public, perhaps those like him will follow suit.
“It’s really important to let people know that there’s no stigma in this,” Varma said. “There are millions of people suffering from this, and it’s treatable.”
“Vinny knew he needed to make some changes and reach out for support from his family to feel better,” said Courtney Knowles of the Jed Foundation. “Taking those steps can be hard, but so many people like Vinny have found ways to manage their anxiety. Hopefully, his example will remove some of the stigma around these conditions, and inspire others to take action to feel better and improve their lives.”
To learn more about Vinny’s story, or if you or a friend are dealing with issues like anxiety, stress or depression, visit Vinny.HalfOfUs.com. If you are having thoughts of suicide or need to speak with someone immediately, you can call (800) 273-TALK for a confidential conversation. For continuing “Jersey Shore” coverage, be sure to check in with MTV’s Remote Control blog.