These Celebs Are Destigmatizing Mental Illness
Many campaigns have worked to normalize the discussion around mental health (Bell’s Let’s Talk and CAMH’s One Brave Night among them). But one thing that really reaches the masses is when a celebrity speaks out about his or her struggle to spread the message that it’s OK to have mental illness; it doesn’t make you weak.
Anyone who has ever suffered from depression or anxiety—whether temporary or chronic—knows the feeling of wanting to crawl into bed and stay there until things seem OK again. And somehow when these celebrities who seem to have it all come out and say that they actually don’t have their shit together, it is encouraging to us. By focusing on their health, it normalizes the conversation and gives us the courage to take care of ourselves (and be vocal about it).
Below, see the celebrities who are helping to fight the stigma against mental health by being open about their own struggles. Want to learn more about mental illness? Here are 5 myths about anxiety and depression, and information about different types of treatment.
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In August 2016, Selena Gomez announced that she would be taking a break from her career to deal with anxiety, depression and panic attacks associated with lupus (an autoimmune condition from which she suffers). She made a return to the spotlight in November that year at the American Music Awards, where she delivered an emotional, heartfelt speech, briefly touching on her battle with mental health issues.
“I had to stop because I had everything and I was absolutely broken inside. I kept it all together enough to where I would never let you down but I kept it too much together to where I let myself down,” she said. “If you are broken, you do not have to stay broken.”
The songstress also opened up about her issues with mental health in the April 2017 issue of Vogue (which she covered). “Tours are a really lonely place for me,” she told the magazine. “My self-esteem was shot. I was depressed, anxious. I started to have panic attacks right before getting onstage, or right after leaving the stage. Basically I felt I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t capable. I felt I wasn’t giving my fans anything, and they could see it—which, I think, was a complete distortion.”
She revealed she spent 90 days in a mental health facility in Tennessee, surrendering her cell phone and taking part in various forms of therapy. And while Gomez is the second most-followed person on Instagram, she told Vogue she no longer had it on her phone, and an assistant had her password.
“It felt like I was seeing things I didn’t want to see, like it was putting things in my head that I didn’t want to care about,” she said. “I always end up feeling like shit when I look at Instagram. Which is why I’m kind of under the radar, ghosting it a bit.”
Former Fifth Harmony member Camila Cabello made headlines in September 2016 after she left the stage early during a performance under the guise of a wardrobe malfunction. She later revealed, on Snapchat, that the cause was excessive anxiety, even tweeting, “just wanna sleep for 3 days.”
Cabello had already been open about her struggles with anxiety prior to the incident, however, telling Billboard that 2015 was a “low” for her, personally.
“I was having terrible anxiety, nonstop. My heart would beat really fast the whole day. Two hours after I woke up, I’d need a nap because my body was so hyperactive,” she recalled. “I was scared of what would happen to me, of the things my brain might tell me. I realized the stuff I thought was important isn’t worth my health. Now I write in a diary every day, work out and meditate.”
In March 2017, the Cuban-born star revealed to Latina magazine that she also deals with obsessive compulsive disorder. “It was just totally out of control,” Cabello told the magazine of her OCD. “I would wake up with a super-accelerated heartbeat and really negative, intrusive, compulsive thoughts. I was so inside my head, and I didn’t know what was happening.”
She continued, “I totally understand now, being in it, why there shouldn’t be such a stigma on mental illness, because it’s a pretty common thing for people. But you can get help. If you’re dedicated to making it better, you can—because I’m in a much better place now. I started reading books about it and it really helped a lot when I understood [the illness], and that [the thoughts I was having] weren’t real. Sometimes you have to remind yourself to slow down and take care of yourself.”
In June 2016, former One Direction member Zayn Malik cancelled a U.K. concert due to anxiety. He made the announcement on Instagram, writing, “Unfortunately, my anxiety that has haunted me throughout the last few months has gotten the better of me. With the magnitude of the live event, I have suffered the worst anxiety of my career.”
Later that year, Malik revealed in his memoir, Pillow Talk, that panic attacks have stopped him from performing on more than one occasion. “I just couldn’t go through with it,” he wrote. “Mentally, the anxiety had won. Physically, I knew I couldn’t function. I would have to pull out.”
And while a member of his team offered to say he was sick, Malik insisted on being open about his struggle. “I was done with putting out statements that masked what was really going on. I wanted to tell the truth. Anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of; it affects millions of people every day,” he explained. “I don’t want to say I’m sick. I want to tell people what’s going on, and I’m not gonna be ashamed of what’s happening.”
In 2016, Cara Delevingne took to Twitter to reveal she took a break from modelling due to depression. “I suffer from depression and was a model during a particularly rough patch of self hatred,” she explained. Later that year, she told Esquire she had been struggling with mental illness since she was a teen, more specifically, after she discovered her mother’s drug addiction.
“I was suicidal. I couldn’t deal with it anymore. I realized how lucky and privileged I was, but all I wanted to do was die,” she told the magazine, adding a six-month break from school and medication might have helped save her life at 16.
However, Cara stopped the meds at age 18, saying “I get depressed still but I would rather learn to figure it out myself rather then be dependant on meds, ever.”
Despite being a 15-time Grammy winner, Adele still experiences stage fright. In March 2017, she admitted to her New Zealand concertgoers that she may never tour again, due to the ongoing issue. “Touring isn’t something I’m good at–applause makes me feel a bit vulnerable. I don’t know if I will ever tour again,” she told the audience. “I get so nervous with live performances that I’m too frightened to try anything new. It’s actually getting worse. Or it’s just not getting better, so I feel like it’s getting worse, because it should’ve gotten better by now.”
In 2016, Lady Gaga revealed she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after she was raped at age 19. “I suffer from PTSD, I’ve never told anyone that before,” she said on the Today show in December 2016. “But the kindness that’s been shown to me, by doctors as well as family and friends, has really saved my life.”
More recently, Gaga opened up about her mental health struggles in a conversation with Prince William, as part of the royal’s Heads Together #oktosay series, which aims to end the stigma with the help of celebrities.
“For me, waking up every day and feeling sad and going on stage is something that is very hard to describe. There’s a lot of shame attached to mental illness. You feel like something’s wrong with you,” she told the Duke of Cambridge via FaceTime. “In my life, I go, ‘Oh my goodness, look at all these beautiful, wonderful things that I have. I should be so happy,’ but you can’t help it if, in the morning when you wake up, you are so tired, you are so sad, you are so full of anxiety and the shakes that you can barely think.”
But despite her hardships, the A Star is Born actress told William “the best thing that could come out of my mental illness was to share it with other people.”
“I feel like we are not hiding anymore, we’re starting to talk, and that’s what we need to do really,” she said.
Demi Lovato is one of the most vocal mental health awareness advocates in the biz. The former Disney star, who has battled drug and alcohol addictions, bipolar disorder, self-harm and an eating disorder for years underwent rehab in 2010 and in 2013. Now, Lovato is much healthier and is committed to ending the stigma against mental illness. In 2015, she launched the Be Vocal campaign as a way to encourage individuals struggling with mental illness to talk about what they’re going through.
“I think the more people vocalize what they’re going through—their experience or just simply educating themselves so that they can learn more about what they’re talking about—that’s going to be the key to creating a conversation about mental illness and making it more understood,” she told HuffPost. “There’s a lack of compassion for people who have mental illnesses and there’s a lot of judgment. Once you make people realize that mental illness can happen to anybody—and it’s not anybody’s fault—then I think they’ll become more understanding of what mental illness really is.”
Jennifer Lawrence opened up about her struggle with anxiety in 2013, telling Madame Figaro that she began experiencing symptoms as a preteen. “When my mother told me about my childhood, she always told me that there was like a light in me, a spark that inspired me constantly,” Lawrence told the magazine. “When I started school, the light went out. It was never known what it was, a kind of social anxiety.”
She eventually went to seek help from a therapist and turned to acting as a form of self-therapy. She also revealed to the New York Times that she manages her anxiety with the use of prescription meds.
Oscar winner Emma Stone told Rolling Stone in 2016 that she experienced bouts of anxiety and panic attacks as a child. “My anxiety was constant,” she said. “I would ask my mom a hundred times how the day was gonna lay out. What time was she gonna drop me off? Where was she gonna be? What would happen at lunch? Feeling nauseous. At a certain point, I couldn’t go to friends’ houses anymore–I could barely get out the door to school.”
She did reveal, however, that therapy and acting, specifically improv and sketch comedy, is what helped her work through it. “You have to be present in improv, and that’s the antithesis of anxiety,” she explained.
Chrissy Teigen is never one to hold back, but she shocked fans when she penned an essay for Glamour in 2017 on her struggle with postpartum depression. “I couldn’t figure out why I was so unhappy. I blamed it on being tired and possibly growing out of the role: ‘Maybe I’m just not a goofy person anymore. Maybe I’m just supposed to be a mom,'” she wrote, later adding “postpartum does not discriminate.”
Months later, Teigen finally saw her family doctor, where she got her diagnosis. She began taking antidepressants. “I’m speaking up now because I want people to know it can happen to anybody and I don’t want people who have it to feel embarrassed or to feel alone. I also don’t want to pretend like I know everything about postpartum depression, because it can be different for everybody. But one thing I do know is that—for me—just merely being open about it helps.”
In November 2016, Pretty Little Liars star Troian Bellisario revealed via a voting PSA that she struggled with an eating disorder when she was younger. She said it was early detection and mental healthcare that saved her. “If I had just been shunned to the side as not having ‘real problems’, I don’t know that I would be living today,” she explained. “I just want to make sure that everybody has the same opportunity for treatment that I have, and I think that we have to make sure that our government invests in those programs.”
Troian shared her story on her struggles with anorexia in her film Feed, which she wrote and directed. “It was not easy; it was like engaging with an addiction,” she told Interview magazine of revisiting her story, adding that working on the film was “like poking a sleeping dragon.” “One of the things I really wanted the film to explore was that once you have this relationship, once you have this mental illness or this disease, it never really goes away.”
And just like many others who suffer from mental illness, Bellisario said she feels like no one truly understands what she went through. “Still to this day, I couldn’t get anyone—even the people who loved me the most, even my boyfriend or my mother or my father—to understand what that experience was truly like for me,” she said. “It was about my eating disorder, and I found there were so many people who thought that it was about losing weight or being skinny, and I couldn’t quite get them to understand that it was about control on a very, very literal level.”
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Jane the Virgin star Gina Rodriguez got candid about her struggle with anxiety in a moving Instagram post. “I suffer from anxiety,” she captioned the video, which sees her makeup-free in a New York Yankees cap. “And watching this clip I could see how anxious I was but I empathize with myself. I wanted to protect her and tell her it’s ok to be anxious, there is nothing different or strange about having anxiety and I will prevail.”
It may be hard to believe that Canada’s very own heartthrob has had his fair share of anxious episodes, but he has. In April 2018, the singer-songwriter told The Sun in an interview that he had seen a therapist a few times. “I found I was closing myself off from everybody, thinking that would help me battle [my anxiety], then realizing the only way I was going to battle it was completely opening up and letting people in,” Mendes said.
Said anxiety was chronicled in his single “In My Blood” (Lyrics: Help me, it’s like the walls are caving in, sometimes I feel like giving up, no medicine is strong enough, someone help me.)
“All pain is temporary, and the thing is with anxiety, and why it’s such a hard thing for people who don’t have it to understand, is that it is very random and it hits you at moments you don’t expect it. Sometimes it lasts two hours, sometimes it lasts a day and sometimes it lasts five minutes,” he said.
Back in December 2018, Sarah Hyland opened up about experiencing suicidal thoughts after her body rejected a kidney donated by her dad. The Modern Family star, who has had a slew of health problems her whole life, appeared on Ellen in early January 2019 and spoke about her depression.
“After 26, 27 years of just always being sick and being in chronic pain every single day—and [you] don’t know when you’re going to have the next good day—it’s really, really hard…” she said.
“I would write letters in my head to loved ones of why I did it, and my reasoning behind it, and how it wasn’t anybody’s fault,” the 28-year-old revealed, adding that she was “very, very, very close,” to taking her own life.
When asked how she overcame her suicidal thoughts and depression, Hyland said that she confided in a close friend (“I finally said it out loud to someone… just saying it out loud helped immensely, because I kept it to myself for months and months at a time.”) who urged her to see a therapist.
In British Vogue’s July 2018 issue, Ariana Grande opened up on her experience with PTSD after the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing. “It’s hard to talk about because so many people have suffered such severe tremendous loss. But, yeah, it’s a real thing,” she said. “I don’t think I’ll ever know how to talk about it and not cry.”
In November 2018, the singer/songwriter dropped a single titled “thank u, next,” dedicated to all of her exes, including the late-Mac Miller (who died this past September of a drug overdose) and ex-fiancé Pete Davidson, which resulted in fans wondering who her therapist is. “Therapy has saved my life so many times,” Grande tweeted in response. “If you’re afraid to ask for help, don’t be.”
In an Instagram story posted on April 11, Grande shared a side-by-side image of a healthy brain and a brain affected by PTSD. She also included an image of what is allegedly her brain, which appears to show incredibly high levels of PTSD. “Not a joke,” she captioned the story. In a follow-up story, Grande posted a selfie containing the captions “life is wild,” “she’s trying her muthafukin best,” and “my brain is tired.”
The Duke of Sussex has spoken out extensively about his own mental health journey, and the trauma he suffered as a result of losing his mother, Princess Diana, at a young age. In an interview with Bryony Gordon for her podcast about mental health, Mad World, the royal said, “I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well.”
“I have probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions when all sorts of grief and sort of lies and misconceptions and everything are coming to you from every angle,” he added.
After seeking out counselling and learning to open up about his struggles with friends and family, the royal co-founded Heads Together, a mental health awareness campaign, with Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2016. While on a recent trip to South Africa with Meghan Markle, the royal couple met with Waves For Change, an organization promoting mental wellbeing through surf therapy, and spoke out about the need to counter the stigma against mental illness in our society.
“I think most of the stigma is around mental illness [and] we need to separate the two… mental health, which is every single one of us, and mental illness, which could be every single one of us,” he said. “I think they need to be separated; the mental health element touches on so much of what we’re exposed to, these experiences that these kids and every single one of us have been through. Everyone has experienced trauma or likely to experience trauma at some point during their lives. We need to try, not [to] eradicate it, but to learn from previous generations so there’s not a perpetual cycle.”
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Day two of #SussexRoyalTour is underway, and The Duke and Duchess have joined young South Africans and @WavesForChange to focus on mental health and take part in ‘surf therapy’. • Hundreds of young people from Cape Town’s townships meet every week at Monwabisi beach to surf, but also share stories with mentors and talk through the daily challenges they face. Their Royal Highnesses were able to hear how the sessions are building trust, confidence, and belonging, and they also got to join in as children took part in ‘power hand’, which teaches them how to keep calm down reflect on strengths. While on the beach The Duke and Duchess met @TheLunchBoxFund – which was one of the charities they nominated to benefit from donations following the birth of their son, Archie. Almost 30,000 meals are provided by the charity every day across South Africa, including for three @WavesForChange projects. And before they left The Duke and Duchess joined the Commonwealth Litter Programme (CLiP) – which was teaching the surfers about the impact of plastic waste on the ocean. #RoyalVisitSouthAfrica • Photo ©️ photos EMPICS / PA images / SussexRoyal