Mental Health
As more celebrities open up about their personal struggles with mental health, the world is becoming more aware of the prevalence of mental disorders. (Image via Gaga Daily)
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Mental Health

The conversations we’ve needed to have for decades are finally taking place.

Mental health is trending. Now, more than ever, mental health is being portrayed in television series and in movies. While central characters cope with mental illness, celebrities are sharing their own personal experiences struggling with mental health disorders as well.

For so many years, mental health has been considered a taboo topic, and men especially feel like they can’t talk about their own struggles “due to long-standing societal norms.” Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, a former athlete turned famous actor, opened up about his “battles with depression during his teen and early adult years.” He encouraged men to talk to someone about their mental health concerns and get treatment, instead of “bottling up their emotions.”

Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps explained how depression almost ended his career. Phelps credits therapy as his saving grace for helping him through a dark time in his life, and he encourages others to seek out therapy or other types of treatment as well. Fortunately, this position that men should be tough and be able to handle it (it being emotional or psychological issues) has been challenged as more male celebrities and athletes come forward about their trials with mental illness.

On Aug. 11, 2014, beloved actor and comedian Robin Williams committed suicide. Since then, it almost seems like he started a chain reaction. Over the last few months, a number of celebrities and household names have taken their own lives. Celebrity chef, author and TV personality Anthony Bourdain, fashion designer Kate Spade and DJ Tim “Avicii” Bergling left the earth too early. However, these tragedies did not go unnoticed, and they did not die in vain.

#MentalHealthIsTrending, a novel clothing label, has started a viral campaign “calling for awareness of mental illness.” Helen Hope, the founder of fashion brand Heartknoxx, hopes the campaign will shine a light on the difficulties those with mental illness face on a daily basis. Having had a slew of “chronic anxiety and panic attacks,” Hope wanted to turn her negative experience into a positive one.

Her clothing line features eye-catching slogans, such as: “Let’s make mental health a conversation,” “It’s OK not to feel OK” and “I’m fine,” which she hopes will eradicate stigmas associated with mental illness. About the curious “I’m fine” slogan, she commented: “I was determined to use the message ‘I’m Fine’ to create awareness because so many of us say we’re ok, but are we really? ‘I’m Fine’ can be interpreted by the individual in so many ways,” and this is why it resonated with people in such a short amount of time. “I’m fine” sends a strong message, and hopefully people will take it seriously.

If you break your leg, you go to the doctor, and if you’re struggling with depression, you do the same. However, many people don’t think that mental illness is a real thing, that it’s not as important to treat as a physical injury. As horrible as stigmatization is, there’s something far worse: “the romanticization of mental illness.”

Social media outlets, such as Tumblr and Pinterest, and even retail stores contribute to the glamorization of mental illness. Movies, such as “Girl, Interrupted,” “Valley of the Dolls” and “Heathers” do so as well. “Valley of the Dolls” romanticizes suicide, calling it “tragically beautiful.” How about real suicide? Not so beautiful. According to the Jason Foundation, suicide was the second leading cause of death of among individuals between 12 and 18 years old in 2015.

The movie “Heathers” tries to put a positive spin on eating disorders, trivializing their savage realities. Veronica Sawyer assists Heather Duke in purging her lunch in a bathroom stall. Heather Chandler says, “Grow up, Heather. Bulimia’s so ’87.” Describing bulimia as a casual fad could be extremely detrimental and cause younger viewers to disregard the dangers of eating disorders.

The takeaway: Mental illness of any kind is not romantic, beautiful or trendy. The reality: Struggling with eating disorders, anxiety, depression and any other illnesses is painful. There’s nothing to be proud of or ashamed of, and there is certainly nothing to show off.

Celebrities, like Lady Gaga, are doing something about the problem. Gaga, the leading lady in “A Star Is Born,” teamed up with Dr. Tedros Adhanom, director general of the World Health Organization, to write an op-ed for The Guardian, which basically demanded the end of stigmatization of mental health, especially in regard to the suicide spike. Their piece was titled: “800,000 People Kill Themselves Every Year. What Can We Do?”

For a start, Gaga and Adhanom urge people to stop ostracizing, blaming and condemning those who are going through a difficult time. The pair refer to suicide as “the most extreme and visible symptom of the larger mental health emergency we are so far failing to adequately address.” There are people in this country, and others, who are suffering and need help and treatment. Gaga and Adhanom write that it never should have been okay — and no longer should be okay — that mental illness is portrayed as “a matter of weakness or moral failing.”

Gaga has made her mark in the entertainment industry with her sensational music career and showing her vulnerable side as an actress in “A Star Is Born.” However, she has also been a longstanding, outspoken advocate for mental illness and suicide prevention. Gaga founded the Born This Way Foundation alongside her mother in 2012 to “provide youth with genuine opportunities, quality resources, and platforms to make their voices heard.”

Of course, Gaga is not without her own mental health struggles and has been vocal about coming to terms as a victim, but more importantly, as a survivor of sexual assault, also revealing that she suffers from PTSD. On “The Today Show” in 2016, Gaga said, “The kindness that’s been shown to me by doctors — as well as my family and my friends — it’s really saved my life…I’ve been searching for ways to heal myself, and I’ve found that kindness is the best way.”

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I have always been honest about my physical and mental health struggles. Searching for years to get to the bottom of them. It is complicated and difficult to explain, and we are trying to figure it out. As I get stronger and when I feel ready, I will tell my story in more depth, and plan to take this on strongly so I can not only raise awareness, but expand research for others who suffer as I do, so I can help make a difference. I use the word "suffer" not for pity, or attention, and have been disappointed to see people online suggest that I'm being dramatic, making this up, or playing the victim to get out of touring. If you knew me, you would know this couldn't be further from the truth. I'm a fighter. I use the word suffer not only because trauma and chronic pain have changed my life, but because they are keeping me from living a normal life. They are also keeping me from what I love the most in the world: performing for my fans. I am looking forward to touring again soon, but I have to be with my doctors right now so I can be strong and perform for you all for the next 60 years or more. I love you so much.

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Mental illnesses are no laughing matter. They have been stigmatized and considered insignificant. Just because you can’t physically see someone’s internal struggles doesn’t mean they are not suffering. Mental health disorders are just as real and important to treat as physically injuries. Many celebrities acknowledge this and are sharing their own struggles with mental health.

Hopefully, their contribution to the conversation is the wakeup call required to finally put an end to the constant dispute about the realness and significance of mental illness.

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