What initially started out as “Women’s History Week” in 1981 has evolved into “Women’s History Month” thanks to strong advocates and Congress who passed multiple joint resolutions over a period of years to get to this point.
In 1987 Congress designated the month of March as “Women’s History Month” and passed additional resolutions authorizing the President of the United States to make an annual proclamation that March of each year will remain as such. This has been supported by multiple national leaders including: Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama who have all issued annual proclamations while in office.
In honor of March being National Women’s History Month, let’s talk about how some celebrity women are changing the conversation about mental health.
Demi Lovato is likely one of the most recognized faces when it comes to mental health advocacy. She has been open about her struggles with body image, substance abuse, self-harm, eating disorders, and bipolar disorder.
She is the face of the “Be Vocal: Speak Up for Mental Health” initiative. In February of 2017 she partnered with director Shaul Schwarz and executive produced “Beyond Silence,” a documentary that follows three very diverse people who live with different mental health disorders. The documentary can be streamed at (http://www.bevocalspeakup.com/documentary.html) and is definitely worth watching.
In 2012 Lady Gaga along with her mother established the “Born this Way Foundation” which “is committed to supporting the wellness of young people and empowering them to create a kinder and braver world.
To achieve these goals, the “‘Born This Way Foundation’ leverages evidence-based programming and authentic partnerships in order to work with young people to build kinder communities and improve mental health resources.”
Mariah Carey had been living with Bipolar Disorder for years before opening up about her condition. She received the diagnosis in 2001, and finally started talking about her struggles in 2018. It is difficult to imagine what it would be like trying to keep this to herself for so many years, but her willingness to discuss her diagnosis is remarkable and inspiring.
The late Carrie Fisher was arguably one of the most outspoken advocates for mental health when she was alive. She had a reputation for being very candid about her diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, substance abuse, and her journey through illness and treatment.
Many clips of her interviews can be found easily on YouTube. And in true outspoken fashion, Carrie Fisher’s ashes were placed in an urn shaped like a giant antidepressant capsule, which according to her family was one of her favorite belongings.
In an interview with Parade magazine in 2007, superstar Halle Berry spoke openly about her suicide attempt in 1997 after her marriage to athlete David Justice ended. She was quoted as saying ”because someone didn’t love me didn’t mean I was unlovable.” She reported thinking about her mother during the attempt and attributes that moment to saving her life.
In March of 2017 Glamour magazine published a piece written by Teigan. She crafted a beautiful piece about her struggle with postpartum depression after giving birth to her daughter. In the article she wrote “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.”
Chrissy Teigan is not the only celebrity to be open about their experience with postpartum depression. Superstars like Hayden Panettiere, Kristen Bell, Alyssa Milano, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Adele, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Brooke Shields have also shared their experiences publically.
Chrissy’s article can be read at: https://www.glamour.com/story/chrissy-teigen-postpartum-depression
After the horrific bombing at her concert in Manchester, England in 2017 Ariana Grande has talked about how this traumatic experience has affected her mental health.
She has done several interviews, and has also been active on social media sharing how she copes with the trauma and anxiety associated with it. A clip of one of her interviews after the tragedy can be seen on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3vDsTGx6j8.
Taraji P. Henson
In 2018 the award winning actress launched “The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation” in honor of her father a Vietnam War veteran who struggled with mental health after returning from the war. The goal of this organization is as follows; “we are committed to changing the perception of mental illness in the African-American community by encouraging those who suffer with this debilitating illness to get the help they need.”
The organization is also committed to reducing recidivism rates. This is particularly important given that minority populations are disproportionately affected by mental health disorders, are much less likely to seek treatment, and are at greater risk of incarceration due to an underlying mental health disorder. It is not uncommon for mental health conditions in this population to be undiagnosed and thus untreated which contributes to the overrepresentation of minorities in the incarcerated population.
In 1997 Ellen DeGeneres “came out” publicly as a lesbian. She has spoken openly about the bullying she experienced from Hollywood including cancellation of her show “Ellen” very shortly after her announcement. She started experiencing severe depression and described her experience of moving out of Los Angeles, seeing a therapist, and starting medication for depression to help her get back on track.
She came back to Hollywood with a vengeance and has a well established career as a stand up comedian, television host, is the beloved voice of Dory from the Finding Nemo and Finding Dory movies. She is also the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom given to her by President Obama when he was in office.
Stacy Ann Ferguson known professionally as “Fergie” is likely most well known for her contribution to the group The Black Eyed Peas. She has been very open about her history of addiction, and her journey to sobriety. She shared that she struggled with addiction to methamphetamines and was using so heavily that she was experiencing severe hallucinations that didn’t fully go away until a year after she stopped using drugs.
The bottom line is, mental health doesn’t discriminate with regard to age, sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, celebrity status, etc. Mental health conditions are very common, and according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 43.8 million adults experience mental illness every year, that boils down to 1 out of every 5 individuals.
In the way society at large comes together to support people diagnosed with cancer, mental illness should be no different. Mental illness is treatable and is nothing to be ashamed of.
A special thank you to all celebrities, both men and women, who use their voices to change the way we think and talk about mental illness.