Society’s attitudes toward mental health have transformed substantially throughout history, from progression through periods of darkness, stigma and shame, to eventually receiving increased validation and respect.1 With growing acceptance of mental illness as a unique and very real form of medical illness, a growing number of celebrities have come forward to speak about their own experiences living with “inner demons”.2 Research has revealed that celebrity accounts of mental illness have a powerful impact on public views of mental health struggles.3
In the twenty-first century, it’s becoming clear to many that big homes and bank accounts don’t protect against this incredibly human fight. It’s also becoming clear that the courage of many celebrities living in the spotlight has helped shift our conversation about mental health. Not only do celebrity stories about living with mental illness help raise awareness and normalize these all-too-common, often alienating struggles, but they also help others who are living with similar challenges realize that they are not alone. Instead of the rejection and shame that many celebrities faced in the past for going public about their psychological battles, most are met today with appreciation and encouragement.4
Many celebrities are responsible for helping decrease the stigma surrounding mental illness. In fact, it has been established that one of the most effective forces to combat stigma is a real-life encounter with a person’s story of their real experience–and many twenty-first century celebrities are making this possible by revealing their individual accounts of personal battles. Singer Demi Lovato has been one of the most prominent voices in this area. At the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Lovato explained on the world stage, “I stand here today as proof that you can live a normal and empowered life with mental illness”.5 Lovato stands tall alongside stars like Selena Gomez, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Kid Cudi, Lady Gaga and Russel Brand — all of whom are part of a wave of celebrities who are normalizing the very human battle of living with mental illness, and in turn, are helping shape the future of this conversation.
Celebrities undoubtedly shape the cultural mold of society, and given this reality it is in the best interest of the general public that this trend only continues to grow. It is no surprise that research reveals higher rates of people seeking help as a result of exposure to celebrities’ disclosures.6 With that being said, here’s the really important part: according to research, sharing your own story of your personal battle with mental illness may have a larger impact on the attitudes of the people around you than a celebrity’s public disclosure. This strategy, dubbed “TLC3” (targeted, local, continuous, credible, contact) by researcher Dr. Patrick Corrigan appears to be one of the most powerful tools for reducing stigma in the long-term. In short, this means when everyday people talk openly about their struggles with other individuals/groups they encounter in their lives, tangible change can happen–and that power lies in our own hands. Take a look at Dr Corrigan’s research to see how you can engage others around you in this conversation: Five Principles for Social Marketing Campaigns to Reduce Stigma
We hope you’ll take a look at some of the great work that many modern celebrities are doing to add to conversations on Mental Health. We’ve compiled a short list of some exciting projects that a handful of them are working on and notable interviews that have been conducted:
- Chyler Leigh – Together with Be Vocal, Leigh has been working to help people who might also be suffering from bipolar disorder to realize that they are not alone, and there are ways to get through it
- Bebe Rexha – https://www.self.com/story/bebe-rexha
- Brittany Snow – Spokesperson for The Jed Foundation: https://www.jedfoundation.org/
- Demi Lovato – Spokeswoman for the “Be Vocal: Speak Up for Mental Health” campaign, https://www.bevocalspeakup.com/
- Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – Johnson opens up about his struggles with mental health, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EU12vg8AySA
- Glenn Close – Started nonprofit organization Bring Change to Mind: https://bringchange2mind.org/
- Kid Cudi – Started #YouGoodMan on Twitter to encourage Black men to open up about their experiences with mental illness
- Lady Gaga – Founded menta health advocacy organization, https://bornthisway.foundation/
- Mayim Bialik – Partner with Child Mind Institute: https://childmind.org/
- Oscar Gunsberg – https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/osher-guensberg/when-you-picture-someone-with-a-mental-illness-picture-me-in-a_a_22082506/
- Russell Brand – https://www.theguardian.com/media/2006/jun/18/broadcasting.arts
- Selena Gomez – Speaking about her struggles – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qe1fBarRE5Q
- Taraji P. Henson – Started the Boris L. Henson Foundation to eradicate the stigma around mental health issues in the African-American community: https://borislhensonfoundation.org
- Zayn Malik – https://www.menshealth.com/trending-news/a19543795/zayn-malik-eating-disorder/
Hallie Goldstein graduated in 2018 from Scripps College with a Bachelor’s in psychology. She is planning to pursue her PhD in clinical psychology in two years, but for the time being is living in Tel Aviv and working with a start-up that lies at the intersection of mental health and tech. She is a passionate mental health advocate and self-proclaimed psychology nerd.
- “Historical perspectives on the theories, diagnosis, and ….” 2 Mar. 2017, https://bcmj.org/mds-be/historical-perspectives-theories-diagnosis-and-treatment-mental-illness. Accessed 20 Oct. 2020.
- “10 Celebrities Who Struggle With Mental Health | University of ….” 26 Apr. 2017, https://healthcare.utah.edu/healthfeed/postings/2017/04/celebs-mental.php. Accessed 20 Oct. 2020.
- “What’s Normal Anyway? Celebrities’ Own Stories of Mental ….” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/279997955_What’s_Normal_Anyway_Celebrities’_Own_Stories_of_Mental_Illness. Accessed 21 Oct. 2020.
- “What Happens When Celebrities Speak Out | NAMI: National ….” https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/May-2019/What-Happens-When-Celebrities-Speak-Out. Accessed 20 Oct. 2020.
- “Why celebrity accounts of depression are vital – USA Today.” 31 Aug. 2016, https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/2016/08/31/celebrity-disclosures-depression/89418486/. Accessed 20 Oct. 2020.
- “Are Celebrities Changing How We Talk About Mental Illness ….” https://www.eachmindmatters.org/movement-moment/are-celebrities-changing-how-we-talk-about-mental-illness/. Accessed 21 Oct. 2020.