Famous Faces Help Change How We See Mental Illness

Mental Illness Awareness Week 2016

For far too long, mental illness was talked of in hushed tones, when it was talked of at all, leading to ignorance, fear and stigma. Today, slowly, that’s starting to change, and part of the credit goes to an increasing number of celebrities who are sharing the stories of their mental health challenges.

This openness, coming from those whose lives seem charmed when viewed from the outside, reminds us of several important things:

  • Any of us can find ourselves dealing with a mental health issue, no matter how famous, rich, beautiful, successful or beloved we are. In fact, statistics reveal that about 1 in 5 of us will deal with a mental illness in any given year.
  • Mental illness is treatable.
  • A mental health diagnosis doesn’t have to stop your life or your dreams.

In recognition of Mental Illness Awareness Week, here are just a few of the famous folk who are saying no to shame and stigma and urging you to do the same.

Demi Lovato

The singer, songwriter, businesswoman and former Mousketeer deserves a spot at the top of the list for tirelessly advocating on behalf of those with mental health issues after she was diagnosed in her late teens with bipolar disorder.
“Getting a diagnosis was kind of a relief,” Lovato explained on BeVocalSpeakUp.com, the online home of an initiative she created in partnership with a variety of public and private health organizations and designed to prompt a conversation about mental health. “It helped me start to make sense of the harmful things I was doing to cope with what I was experiencing.”
Those harmful things included eating disorders, self-harm and substance abuse. There was a time, in fact, she told Access Hollywood in 2014, when “I couldn’t go 30 minutes to an hour without cocaine, and I would bring it on airplanes.”
Today, Lovato is four years sober and shares the story of her bipolar disorder in the hope that it will help others realize that living with a mental illness is possible. “You may not be able to see it as clearly right away,” she writes on her website, “but please don’t give up — things can get better.”

Glenn Close

The Oscar-nominated actress takes medication as needed for mild depression but it wasn’t her own struggles that inspired her to become an anti-stigma champion.

It was seeing what her family endured, especially her sister, Jessie, who has bipolar disorder, and Jessie’s son, who has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. “He used to be the leader of the pack. He was drop-dead gorgeous, and the girls just flung themselves at him,” Jessie told WebMD Magazine. “But when it became evident he had a mental illness, everyone was out of there. I said to Glenn, ‘Never give me another birthday or Christmas present. Just do something about the stigma and prejudice toward those of us who have mental illness.’”

That something was the creation of Bring Change 2 Mind, a nonprofit that partners with a variety of organizations to tackle mental illness stigma. Close told WebMD Magazine that she encourages everyone to get involved in the effort, and she suggests starting first by talking within your family about your own mental health. “So many cultures and families don’t want the neighbors to know. They think it will be a reflection on them, and that’s how stigma starts.”

Bruce Springsteen

When he was a child, the family tendency toward mental health problems went undiscussed, the music legend writes in his new memoir, Born to Run. “It was simply mysterious, embarrassing and ordinary.”

Today, he is opening up not only about the father whose mental health issues and drinking problem had such an effect on his life, but about his own struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts.

In therapy since the 1980s, when success threatened to overwhelm him, Springsteen recently told CBS News that he has dealt with sometimes crippling depression that can last for a year or more before receding. “Then it would come back for a year-and-a-half. It sneaks up on you. I got to where I didn’t want to get out of bed, you know?”

Now 67, he’s made it through, he said, with the support of his family, especially his wife Patti Scialfa. “Her strength and the love she had was very important.”

Hayden Panettiere

As a new mom in 2014, the actress was devastated to discover herself dealing with postpartum depression. And she was terrified of admitting it.

But eventually she decided she was tired of living in fear and determined to do whatever she could to be the best mom possible for her child, and she announced she was taking time off from her role in the TV show “Nashville” to get the mental health treatment she needed. “The more open I was, the more acceptance I got from people,” she told Yahoo! Style. “I got so much support and so much love. I was floored.”

She again checked in for treatment in spring 2016 and has committed to remaining open about her issue to demonstrate that there is nothing to be ashamed of when dealing with postpartum depression. She told People magazine: “The biggest message that I’ve been trying to promote for women is that it’s OK to ask for help.”

Jennifer Lawrence

As a child, Jennifer Lawrence went from active and curious to filled with anxiety, she told NZHerald. Her concerned mother arranged visits with a psychologist, but Lawrence only truly began to overcome her social anxiety when she found something that allowed her to feel comfortable in her own skin — acting.

In 2013, she won a best actress Oscar for her portrayal of a young widow dealing with depression who finds herself in a romantic relationship with a man diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the movie “Silver Linings Playbook.” It was a role, she said, that she hoped would help open eyes and make others more accepting of those dealing with mental health concerns.

Speaking to the press after winning the Oscar, she remarked, “It’s just so bizarre how — in this world — if you have asthma, you take asthma medicine. If you have diabetes, you take diabetes medicine. But as soon as you have to take medication for your mind, there’s such a stigma behind it.”

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