On August 5, 2022, a car driven by Anne Heche crashed into a home in Los Angeles and caught on fire. Six days later, Heche died of burns and other injuries sustained in the crash. Throughout a successful acting and directing career, Heche suffered from mental illness and substance abuse problems. Her role as a wealthy celebrity may have insulated her from the type of intervention that could have saved her life.
Career Beginning on a Soap
Heche’s first acting role in 1987 was in the daytime drama, “Another World,” for which she earned a Daytime Emmy Award. She continued to act in well-received roles and went on to receive numerous awards for her acting and directing.
Troubled Family History
In her 2001 autobiography, Heche wrote that she had been sexually abused by her father. Her mother was a Christian therapist who believed homosexuality was a sin. Because Heche is bisexual, this may have contributed to her desire to create a fantasy world. After she and her mother became estranged, Anne Heche’s drug use increased, and she developed a sex addiction. Her mental health also began to decline.
Mental Health Issues
Heche’s mental health issues began to intrude on her life more often. Beginning in the late 90s, Heche began to exhibit delusions and erratic behavior. She was in a relationship with Ellen Degeneres and had a mental breakdown when the relationship ended.
Heche escaped from reality through fantasy, at one point believing that a spirit dwelled within her that was directing her to save humanity. After her breakup with Degeneres in 2000, she walked over a mile in just her bra and shorts. Invited into the home of a fan, she refused to leave until police were called. Although she was admitted to the psychiatric unit of a hospital, she was released within a few hours.
The Pressures of Fame
Anne Heche’s mental health was an issue before she became an actor, and she said she was “insane” for the first 31 years of her life. It’s possible Heche suffered from schizophrenia and drug use was a way for her to self-medicate. The pressures of fame added to the burden. Heche said she believed her split from Ellen Degeneres caused her to be blacklisted from acting roles, and she said that during their relationship, the celebrity same-sex couple was singled out for discrimination.
The Stigma of Mental Illness
Throughout her life and career, Anne Heche’s mental health was precarious. At times, she seemed to have beaten her demons, but she was still in the grip of the illness. Instead of empathy and help, she often experienced prejudice and derision. After her death, a recent coworker, Emily Bergl, recalls being asked how it was to work with “crazy Anne Heche.” Bergl described Heche as an acting genius who was always “focused and prepared” and applauded her for being honest about her struggles with mental illness.
There were many articles written after Anne Heche’s death. Press coverage and reader commentary often betrayed a lack of understanding of mental health and addiction issues. Heche was blamed for the crash, and some articles called her actions a choice. Using drugs is a compulsion, not a reasoned decision. Although Heche may have known on some level that she was harming herself, she didn’t have control over her actions in the middle of a mental health breakdown.
What Is a Mental Health Crisis?
During a mental health crisis, a person suffering from mental illness is unable to care for themselves. They may take drugs to escape, disconnecting from reality. Relationships suffer as the addicted person falls into negative behavior that destroys trust and intimacy. Anne Heche was calm and lucid for long stretches only to exhibit behaviors that eroded her relationships and put her life in jeopardy. Mental health breakdowns are especially damaging to an intimate relationship, as a person’s behaviors can put them and their loved ones at risk.
Crisis intervention occurs when the sufferer’s family, law enforcement officials or medical professionals take charge of the situation. Because of Heche’s celebrity status, she was able to evade these measures. For example, she was released within hours after her mental health crisis in 2000, despite telling the police that she was high on ecstasy. Her family estrangement and frequent lack of a significant other left no one to notice the warning signs of her descent into crisis.
What Are the Warning Signs of a Breakdown?
Sometimes there are no warning signs. However, here are a few red flags to look for in a friend or loved one:
- Alternating periods of high energy and depression
- Inability to perform self-care tasks such as brushing teeth or bathing
- Threats or destruction of property
- Withdrawal from family and friends
Although Heche was open about the fact that she suffered from mental illness, warning signs didn’t get her the help she needed. The week before Anne Heche’s death, she released a podcast in which she said she’d been drinking vodka and having “a very bad day.” After the crash, some media outlets rushed to cast blame. One media source reported that Heche would likely be charged with felony driving under the influence of drugs. The same article highlighted a “hit-and-run investigation” due to Heche’s car hitting a garage door at a different location.
Misconceptions About Mental Illness and Drug Use
A significant number of people don’t understand that a person with mental illness or drug addiction can’t control their behavior, and Anne Heche suffered from both illnesses. Those who’ve never experienced mental illness sometimes blame a person who has it, believing they could have chosen not to be mentally ill.
Anne Heche’s drug use and mental problems were not choices she made. People can become physically and psychologically addicted to drugs and alcohol to the point that using them becomes an irresistible compulsion. Feelings and memories can cause so much suffering that people with substance abuse addictions will try anything to find a way out.
Help Is Available
If you find yourself turning to alcohol or drugs to cope with the problems in your life, FHE Health can help. Caring and compassionate addiction professionals are available to speak with you 24/7. Contact FHE online or call us at (844) 299-0618 and begin your recovery today.