At Starrcast II in Las Vegas this past weekend, I had the opportunity to witness a women’s wrestling panel hosted by Mike Johnson from Pro Wrestling Insider and WWE Hall of Famer, Lita. Many important topics were touched on, but none were more important than the discussion Lita and Awesome Kong had in the video below. The discussion was prompted by a fan asking about how wrestling affects mental health, in the wake of Ashley Massaro’s passing.
Lita said in the video, “kayfabe, kayfabe, power through” when discussing mental health. She also mentioned that wrestlers are “supposed to be tough” and to “keep it inside”, making it difficult for wrestlers to reach out for help. These words resonated with me in a way that I didn’t expect.
Wrestling fandom often revolves around the gimmick of a character. As fans, we’re often so concerned with how “true” to their character a wrestler is. Wrestling’s relationship with kayfabe makes it difficult for a wrestler to deal with their own internal issues.
She continued to say in the video above that wrestlers “continue to lean on each other” and that there is “hopefully comfort in that.”
Awesome Kong added that wrestlers “need time to get help” and told her own story of dealing with mental health during her time working in the wrestling industry. Through this story, we could really see how dealing with a difficult, mental health situation can affect a woman in wrestling.
Awesome Kong recounted a story in which she was to work with WWE, however, she unfortunately she lost her mother. Around the same time, she was pregnant and lost her child which “sent her on a downward spiral.” When Kong tried to take a pause, the “wrestling industry said to just do it”, but she recognized her own needs by saying she “isn’t Nike, and sometimes she just can’t do it.” She also disclosed that she couldn’t even get out of bed. She spoke of how in some cases, the best way to deal with mental health issues was that sometimes people “just need time.”
As we all know, in the wrestling industry, time isn’t something wrestlers are really given. The industry keeps moving 365 days a year, and wrestlers are often truly expected to just keep working, no matter the outside conflicts. I couldn’t even fathom living in their world.
Kayfabe contributes to a lot of the suspension of belief required to truly enjoy wrestling, but it also contributes to some of the harsh realities of being a performer. Since fans demand high-quality entertainment, all the time, the demands of the industry are that wrestlers must perform, and are given very little time for themselves. Kong said that this situation for wrestlers causes “paranoia, and paranoia combined with depression equals, ‘I’m going to take my own life.'” Those words were haunting and difficult to swallow.
Lita shared that wrestlers are told to stay strong, and Kong mentioned that there isn’t even enough time to reach out, in most cases. It’s such a sad reality in an industry that I love so much. As a witness to hearing these stories re-told, all I could do is wonder how many other people are going through these difficulties, especially hearing these things so soon after Massaro’s death.
I hope that one day the wrestling industry is able to slow down for a moment and offer opportunities for the employees to get help. It was so difficult to hear that an amazing woman who so many of us admire, known as Awesome Kong, had to deal with such a painful situation and not be offered the opportunity to get help while keeping her job with the WWE. She even said that if given the luxury of time to get help and recover, she may still be in the WWE, today.
So, while we praise wrestlers for their commitment to kayfabe and criticize their characters and work, we need to remember to do this reasonably. Social media is where our opportunity to help as fans lies. Prior to saying something hateful or harmful to a wrestler, think about what you’re going to write. Remember that the person who may read your tweet or comment is a real person who plays a character. Remember to separate the person from the character they play on television. Do not allow your disdain for a character to be aimed at the real person standing behind the character.
If you, or anyone you know, is suffering from a mental illness, please take use of available resources, like the Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Hotline (1-800-662-4357). Reach out, because help may be just a phone call away.