The halls of NBC’s Saturday Night Live bustle with celebrities and singers, acting extras and cast members, famous faces and star gazers.
The shows cast members push for laughs from their coworkers, the audience, and the folks at home.
On the surface, they may all seem happy, cordial, and eager.
That’s why the story of SNL cast member Pete Davidson may surprise you.
The 23-year-old actor who has a sly grin and booming voice has been with SNL since 2014.
Last year, he announced he was struggling with pot use, chronic depression, and mental health issues.
“I started having these mental breakdowns where I would, like, freak out and then not remember what happened after,” the Staten Island native told Marc Maron on his podcast, WTF with Marc Maron last month.
Davidson took a break from the show last December and decided to check into a rehabilitation program.
Thinking his chronic pot use might be related to mental breakdowns and unusual emotional reactions, he thought quitting could correct his issues.
“I used to smoke weed all day every day until last year, for eight years,” Davidson told Maron.
In rehab, Davidson found more help than just kicking his pot habit. He also found a possible explanation for the symptoms that seemed to plague him for so long.
“They told me there, they're like, ‘You might be bipolar,’ and I was like, ‘OK,’” he recalled to Maron. “So they're like, ‘We’re gonna try you on these meds.’”
He soon left rehab with a prescription — but started smoking again.
Two months later, Davidson says he “just snapped” and had one of the worst mental breakdowns he’d ever experienced.
He returned to a rehabilitation program and announced on his Instagram that he was “happy and sober for the first time in eight years.”
But the euphoria of sobriety didn’t last.
In May 2017, Davidson was still struggling with his mental health issues and emotional turmoil.
Soon after a visit to his doctor, he received a new diagnosis.
“I found out I have BPD, which is borderline personality disorder,” he explained to Maron. “One of my psychiatrists [diagnosed me]. He was always saying before this big meltdown, ‘You’re probably bipolar or borderline. We’re just going to have to figure it out.’”
What is borderline personality disorder?
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is “a severe mental illness which involves difficulties relating to other people in a meaningful way, unstable self-esteem, impulsivity, inability to control mood, and a strong impulse to harm yourself,” explains Elena Mikalsen, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Texas.
“Individuals who suffer from BPD are often unable to have stable relationships with family, friends, or partners,” she told Healthline. “They struggle to trust anyone and feel they will be abandoned or betrayed by another person at any time.”
As a child, Davidson felt that sting all too personally.
On September 11, 2001, his father, a New York City firefighter, died while trying to rescue people after the terrorist attacks that day.
“My big thing is trust,” Davidson told Maron. “One day he was here and the next day he was gone.”
“It is certainly possible that the loss of one's father through a traumatic event such as 9/11 could impact one's mental health, and life in general,” said Anthony P. DeMaria, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist in New York and a clinical professor at Mt. Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine. “Though it is impossible to say that someone's diagnosis of BPD is accounted for by any one factor, events like the tragic loss of a father could definitely play their part in the disorder's development and expression.”
But DeMaria, who is also currently a supervising psychologist at Mt. Sinai Roosevelt’s Center for Intensive Treatment for Personality Disorders, cautions that there’s no one causal factor for BPD.
“Biologically, we know that BPD has a genetic and heritable component, [which] shows itself differently and at different rates between men and women,” he told Healthline. “Also, it's been shown that individuals with BPD demonstrate different brain activity than non-clinical populations when experiencing emotional pain, forming and ending relationships, responding to stress, etc. Psychologically, factors such as black-and-white thinking style, abilities to self-soothe and regulate emotions, and level of emotional reactivity, seem to correlate with BPD.”
“Finally, individuals with BPD have higher reported rates of traumatic experiences, chaotic family or early development environments, and life stressors such as loss, abuse, and neglect,” DeMaria explained.
Living with borderline personality disorder
There’s no one-size-fits-all treatment for BPD.
It’s also almost certain that symptom management will last through a person’s lifetime.
Treatment for BPD is often designed specifically for each individual person, Mikalsen says.
The primary focuses involve teaching skills to control intense emotions, reduce self-destructive behaviors, and improve relationships.
“The vast majority of individuals who engage in long-term treatment for BPD experience symptom remission,” DeMaria said. “It is important, though, to acknowledge that BPD is a complicated and extremely challenging disorder, which often takes years of treatment to overcome.”
Davidson isn’t hiding his diagnosis.
He’s been public about his addiction issues and depression for almost a year and now he’s talking openly about BPD.
“It is working, slowly but surely,” he told Maron. “I've been having a lot of problems. This whole year has been a f—ing nightmare. This has been the worst year of my life, getting diagnosed with this and trying to figure out how to learn with this and live with this.”
In early October, Davidson sat down with the anchors of SNL’s satirical news program, “Weekend Update,” and told co-anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che about his diagnosis.
“As some of you may know, I was recently diagnosed with BPD, a form of depression,” he said. “Depression affects like 16 million people in this country, and there’s no cure per se, but for anyone dealing [with] it, there are treatments that can help.”
It should be noted that the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) doesn’t consider BPD a form of depression, although one of the many symptoms of BPD is depression.
In fact, NIMH classifies BPD as a condition of its own right. Other symptoms include extreme mood swings, intense fears about rejection, and self-injurious behaviors.
Nonetheless, during his “Weekend Update” skit, Davidson delivered poignant advice to others who struggle as he has, couched with a few lines for laughter.
“First of all, if you think you’re depressed, see a doctor and talk to them about medication. Also, be healthy. Eating right and exercise can make a huge difference,” he said. “And finally, if you’re in the cast of a late-night comedy show, it might help if they do more of your sketches.”
“Are you saying that you are depressed because you are not getting enough airtime?” Jost asked.
“No, I was born depressed, but it might make me feel better if I was on TV more,” Davidson replied.
Davidson even pulled out a “doctor’s note” outlining what SNL could do to help his condition.
The suggestions included “please use Pete in more sketches where he gets to kiss the host” and “use more of his rap videos.”
These lines did what they were intended to do for Davidson and fans — give a face to a serious condition, offer help to those who feel lost, and make you laugh at the same time.