Many celebrities are using their status to do great things to benefit others. The most inspiring are those who help to increase awareness and decrease the stigma that’s often associated with mental illness. Here we provide a snapshot of mental illness in our country, cover why advocacy is so important, and highlight celebrity role models who are making a difference.
Mental Illness in the U.S.
Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the United States experience mental illness in any given year with varying degrees of severity and symptoms, according to an infographic created by the online MSW program from the University of Southern California. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines a mental illness as having a diagnosable mental, behavioral or emotional disorder, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, major depressive disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder. The severity of any of these conditions is determined by how much functional impairment results for the individual who’s affected.
Symptoms of mental illness can be mild — such as being more easily distracted, to very serious — including severe depression, extreme anxiety and hallucinations. Adults who are living with mental illnesses are also more prone to suffering from alcohol and drug dependence and to misuse medications.
The Importance of Advocacy
Unfortunately, there is often a stigma attached to mental illness in our society. Breaking it is essential because it causes so many individuals to suffer in silence. Although it can be difficult for individuals to recognize the signs of suffering among those they care about, living with a mental illness presents unique challenges for those who are affected. It can impact many aspects of a person’s life — including one’s career, physical health and relationships.
Raising awareness about mental illness can help Americans recognize signs of mental illness within themselves and others, so they can either get or give the help that’s needed — which is where advocacy comes in. Advocacy matters because so many suffer in silence due to the stigma that’s attached to having a mental health condition. But with the right information and support, individuals faced with these challenges can get the help that they need.
These famous young women face each their own challenges with mental illness — which makes their willingness to speak up and be vulnerable all the more powerful in breaking the stigma.
1. Simone Biles: When hackers stole Biles’ medical records while she was competing in the 2016 Olympics, they thought they’d found an “ah-ha” moment that explained her resounding success. Finding that she was taking the prescription medication Ritalin, they tried to say she was taking it to enhance her performance. When Biles was confronted — and typical to her feisty personae — she turned the tables and announced to the world that she has ADHD, and isn’t the least bit ashamed of it. Her decision to tell the world about her condition has impacted the stigma around the disorder for years to come. This is such an important step for children, coaches, teachers and parents. As an article describing her advocacy noted, “ADHD is not shameful, and taking medication to help manage its symptoms is not cheating. She … just happens to be a world-class athlete who simply happens to have ADHD.”
2. Lady Gaga: Lady Gaga co-founded the Born This Way Foundation with the mission of empowering youth and inspiring bravery and promoting kindness, mental wellness and positive environments. Her foundation partners with the National Council for Behavioral Health to provide Mental Health First Aid classes that coincide with her tour dates and locations. The goal of the partnership is to turn 150,000 people into “first aiders” by the end of 2017. Overall, more than 1 million people have been trained in Mental Health First Aid since the course launched in 2008. By putting her celebrity status behind these classes, and by sharing her own struggles with PTSD and chronic pain, Lady Gaga is helping to destigmatize mental illness around the world.
3. Demi Lovato: Lovato is a singer, songwriter and mental health advocate who is living with bipolar disorder. Her organization, Be Vocal, is a first-of-its-kind partnership “between leading mental health advocacy organizations to support an initiative focused on helping individuals and communities advocate for themselves and others.” The partnership includes the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, The JED Foundation, Mental Health America, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Council for Behavioral Health and Sunovion Pharmaceuticals Inc. In 2017, she was recognized for her work in mental health advocacy at the Open Mind Gala.
These women teach the power of embracing self-acceptance and using our personal stories to help both ourselves and others. By being vulnerable and using their platforms to spread a positive message about mental illness, they help to break the stigma and show that we don’t need to be famous to make a difference.