After American singer-songwriter Kehlani attemtpted suicide earlier this year she took the time to talk to fans about the importance of our mental health. She opened up about her struggles to raise awareness and help others, recognising the power she has, the ability to make people listen. She said :
It’s something that so many young people are dealing with. […] Depression and severe anxiety. […] That’s not okay… not for anyone. […] You are worthy, you are perfect, you need to be here every single day that you are meant to be here.
Mental health issues are still a source of stigmatization. It has gotten a lot better during the last decade but people still think it’s something to be ashamed of – even in western countries. Seeking professional help, going to a psychologist is not something we talk about a lot. Some people feel uncomfortable about their problems and some wants to avoid any awkwardness it might cause – even if they ask for help easily, they can’t predict how others would react.
There is a tendency towards change though. We’ve started to talk about mental health, rather than mental illness and in our opinion that already says a lot. More and more people – including professionals and celebrities – speak up about mental health playing a big role in our overall well-being. We are hoping to get to the point where it is just as natural to talk about anxiety and depression as it is with a cold or a broken leg. What is celebrities’ role in all this? Why would they have a bigger influence on the changing of the picture than anyone else – including psychologists and psychiatrists? Well, with social media being so easily accessible, celebs are right in front of us. We can follow our favourite actors and musicians just by one click. Fortunate or not, they become examples for (hundreds of) thousands of their followers.
People are influenced by sources they trust and love – which explains why is a message much more convincing when it comes from their favourite star and not from an unknown professional. Celebrities do have a huge power in their hands. If they use platforms like Instagram and Twitter, they become trendsetters in a blink of an eye.
Lena Dunham raised her voice against popular culture showing a false image of women struggling with mental health problems – and she recieved thousands of comments. She says “There’s this glamour […] where the woman with psychological illness is in a fur […] Whereas in reality a woman with mental illness […] is often in sweats and a t-shirt that used to belong to her dad.”
It’s strange how seeing someone famous and worshipped struggling to stay healthy mentally helps us accepting our problems, but it does. Probably because if someone whose life looks so perfect has difficulties with depression or anxiety, it’s okay for us too. We only see the good part of their lives so when they open up about problems they are facing, it is reassuring somehow.
It is an incredible responsibility, so celebrities are not in an easy position to say the least. But if they decide to share the glamour of their life with all their followers, they should think about showing the difficulties as well. It is one of the hardest things – who likes to be vulnerable in front of others, let alone the whole world? And even if they would be okay with it, there are so many factors we don’t know about: agents and contracts that won’t allow them.
Luckily as societies are progressing, talking about difficulties is becoming valuable. More and more celebrities recognise their own responsibility in shaping our world – and the opportunity to make it a better, happier place. Due to social media they are much more aware of the attention fans pay to them. Just as anyone else, they have beliefs, things they feel passionate about – feminism, equal rights, refugees or mental health – and sometimes they use their power to make these problems heard.
A couple of months ago Years & Years frontman and actor Olly Alexander opened up about his own issues with mental illness in an interview with The Guardian. Being insanely popular with a passionate fanbase, he realised he can help others seeking help by being honest about his own involvment in counselling. Kristen Bell has done the same in a conversation with Sam Jones on the Off Camera show about dealing with depression and anxiety. They both talk about the stigmatization coming with these issues, actively trying to change them.
Lena Dunham has always been known about her blunt personality, the braveness she has talking about difficult questions such as mental health. She is open about living with OCD and taking medication to stay on top of her illness. They are only a few of the many celebrities who are open about their issues.
We are lucky to have these people who use their power to make people listen, who try to change the way societies think. It’s not only difficult for them because it makes them vulnerable in front of millions but because they are open targets for judgment and prejudice. This is why they have to be really careful – if they make a sudden decision, let people in on their most intimate struggles and later on start acting out, they can cause even bigger problems. First, they need to come to terms with themselves including their mental health and then start helping others.