Odds are you most likely have been affected by or interacted with someone who has been affected by mental illness in your lifetime. And if you’re thinking something along the lines of, “I’ve never met anyone with mental illness,” that’s probably because they didn’t tell you due to the intense stigma surrounding the topic of mental health. Most people do not feel comfortable talking about their issues as it’s seen as something to be kept private because of the core fear that we all possess: having the world find out that we are different and treating us differently because of it. We have been ‘othered’ to the point where people who are struggling feel so alone because no one feels safe talking about it anymore. I have assembled a list of 15 notable figures who have decided that they will no longer stay silent in hopes that their voices will help shatter the stigma we’re fighting against everyday. And who prove that mental illness won’t keep you from having a happy and successful life.
15. Carrie Fisher
There was no conceivable way to make this list without discussing Carrie Fisher. She paved the way for so many people to feel comfortable about talking, openly and honestly, of their personal struggles with mental illness. Though we are becoming a society which is gradually accepting all the ways that make each individual different (now that I’m thinking about it, Carrie’s openness was probably a contributing factor to our increasing tolerance) that was not the case in the late 20th century; which makes Carrie’s bravery all the more inspiring. In her memoir, Wishful Drinking, she has the following to say on this ridiculous stigma:
“One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls…At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.”
14. Demi Lovato
Though every 2000’s kid dreamed of becoming a Disney star one day, being a role model before you even know who you are is no dream. Demi Lovato publicly struggled with depression and eating disorders, all while Disney did everything they could to cover it up, before she decided that enough was enough and went to rehab. When she emerged, Demi decided that she would take her struggles and use them to do everything she could to help diminish the stigma that others faced. Demi has been exceptionally vocal ever since. On the topic of bottling up emotions (which so many of us are guilty of. As a personal rule I let my body feel every emotion that it needs to, in a safe and healthy way) she had this to say:
“One of the reasons I was so unhappy for years was because I never embraced my emotions and I was trying to stay in control. In treatment, all of the negative things I did were stripped away and I had to start processing my feelings.”
The importance of Halsey’s openness with her struggle with bipolar disorder is the simple fact that she’s talking openly about her struggle with mental health. To beat the stigma placed upon mental illness, you don’t have to fight against all stereotypes at all times and an extremely vocal activist at all times. All you have to do is talk about your personal experiences and let people know that a diagnosis is not a death sentence. That they can still do everything they wanted to, even if it may be a bit harder, and you can do that simply by living without shame. She comments on this topic, and fear, in the quote below.
“You wonder things like, ‘Am I ever going to be able to be a mom?’ I never wanted to be a cop, but now that’s something I can never be. I can’t carry a weapon…. Knowing that I couldn’t do something because of this, even though it wasn’t directly crippling me, was horrifying.”
12. Jared Padalecki
Jared Padalecki has been exceptionally open in recent years about his struggle with depression and the most crucial part of his words is how he emphasizes the point that depression can strike anyone, at anytime, regardless of their circumstances (which doesn’t make it any less valid.) As someone who struggled with depression, nothing makes you feel worse than the feeling that you have no right to feel the way you’re feeling because of your circumstances. “Other people have it worse” becomes your mantra of suffering and it just makes you feel worse because now, not only are you sad but you feel guilty for feeling sad. In the below quote, he recounts the moment when he was first diagnosed and the thoughts that followed:
“And it kind of hit me like a sack of bricks. I mean, I was 25 years old. I had my own TV show. I had dogs that I loved and tons of friends and I was getting adoration from fans and I was happy with my work, but I couldn’t figure out what it was; it doesn’t always make sense is my point. It’s not just people who can’t find a job, or can’t fit in in society that struggle with depression sometimes.”
11. Lady Gaga
For this entry, I’m going to let Lady Gaga’s words speak for themselves.
“I became very depressed at the end of 2013. I was exhausted fighting people off. I couldn’t even feel my own heartbeat. I was angry, cynical, and had this deep sadness like an anchor dragging everywhere I go. I just didn’t feel like fighting anymore. I didn’t feel like standing up for myself one more time—to one more person who lied to me. But January 1, I woke up, started crying again, and I looked in the mirror and said, ‘I know you don’t want to fight. I know you think you can’t, but you’ve done this before. I know it hurts, but you won’t survive this depression.’ I really felt like I was dying—my light completely out… Depression doesn’t take away your talents—it just makes them harder to find. But I always find it. I learned that my sadness never destroyed what was great about me. You just have to go back to that greatness, find that one little light that’s left. I’m lucky I found one little glimmer stored away.”
10. Felicia Day
As someone with anxiety, this can be such a difficult illness to talk openly about. The people you tell will have one or two reactions: they will either say something like “Oh I totally get what you mean. When I (insert something super dangerous and scary) I feel the same way”, or, “Have you tried getting over it/just not feeling anxious?” So I thank my lucky stars every time a notable figure, like Felicia Day, talks about anxiety in such an open and honest way because every time someone like Felicia has an interview in which they discuss anxiety, people begin to understand it a bit more. People have preconceived notions of what mental illness and the people who have it are like (i.e. the essence of stigma) so having people who are brave enough to be vulnerable and open in such a way that shows those close minded people that they are wrong can really do wonders towards making the world understand us better. And, consequently, accept us.
9. Cara Delevingne
Cara Delevingne was living a life that most people can only dream about but not even that could protect her from the relentless depression that can take hold of anyone at anytime. It’s very important for people who have very privileged and charmed lives, like Cara, to speak out about their struggles with mental illness (especially depression) because it shows people who are suffering that they aren’t ungrateful for feeling the way they are feeling despite all the good things in their lives. So many people think that they will achieve happiness after fulfilling some goal or aspiration but sometimes that isn’t the case and then they feel guilty for their suffering. Cara got exceptionally candid with her own struggles in the quote below:
“I think I pushed myself so far [at school] that I got to the point where I had a mental breakdown … I was completely suicidal, I didn’t want to live any more. I thought that I was completely alone. I also realized how lucky I was, and what a wonderful family and wonderful friends I had, but that didn’t matter. I wanted the world to swallow me up, and nothing seemed better to me than death.”
8. Rowan Blanchard
When (possibly former) Disney star Rowan Blanchard revealed her inner demons on social media, she was quickly met with backlash. Many people were shocked that she bore no resemblance to the happy-go-lucky-wide-eyed-idealist character she played on the recently canceled Girl Meets World. Rowan’s vulnerability, and the reaction it received, are both important (and for very different reasons.) Rowan’s informal essay (excerpt below) says things that so many people who are suffering need to hear and the reaction goes to show that being honest about what you’re feeling even though people may not accept your honesty with open arms.
“As I found myself, this year in particular, going through ups and downs with depression, I realized that instead of rejecting and ostracizing these teenage feelings (human feelings), I can learn to love the intensity of them and know that everything is momentary. I learned this year that happiness and sadness are not mutually exclusive. They can exist within me at the same time in the same moment.”
7. Angelina Jolie
Angelina’s comments on her previous self harming (below) are beautiful. Not in the conventional sense of beauty, but in the way that they say everything some people are never able to find the words for. Self harming is one of the most common yet stigmatized aspects of mental illness as it’s often written off as something moody teenagers do for attention rather than an ill advised outlet people turn to when they feel like they have no other way to confront their bottled up emotions. Talking about, without shame or a filter, is the only way we can get people to understand. Which would make it so much easier for people to feel comfortable asking for help without being silenced by the fear of judgement and mockery.
“I used to cut myself or jump out of airplanes, trying to find something new to push up against because sometimes everything else felt too easy. I was searching for something deeper, something more. I tried everything. I always felt caged, closed in, like I was punching at things that weren’t there. I always had too much energy for the room I was in.
6. Sarah Silverman
Below is an excerpt from an interview Sarah did in 2015. I highly recommend reading the full interview. The best way to end the stigma people have towards mental illness is to talk about it. Openly and honestly:
“I first experienced depression when I was 13. I was walking off a bus from a school camping trip. The trip had been miserable: I was, sadly, a bed wetter, and I had Pampers hidden in my sleeping bag—a gigantic and shameful secret to carry. My mom was there to pick me up, and she was taking pictures like a paparazzo. Seeing her made the stress of the last few days hit home, and something shifted inside me. It happened as fast as the sun going behind a cloud. You know how you can be fine one moment, and the next it’s, “Oh my God, I f—king have the flu!”? It was like that. Only this flu lasted for three years. My whole perspective changed. I went from being the class clown to not being able to see life in that casual way anymore. I couldn’t deal with being with my friends, I didn’t go to school for months, and I started having panic attacks.”
5. Zoe Sugg
Zoe (more commonly known by her YouTube handle “Zoella”) has never made her anxiety a secret from her 11 million+ subscribers. She has always made her struggles with her anxiety and panic disorder well known and often makes videos on anxiety itself and ways to cope with the disorder. It was actually through the above video that I learned that the shaky, heart attack, “I’m going to literally die and I don’t know why” feeling I’ve gotten my entire life has a name. We need people in the spotlight to use their platform to let people know that they aren’t alone, that there are ways of coping and still being able to live their lives, and that sometimes there are things that you just can’t do because of your disorder and that’s perfectly fine. People will understand, and if they don’t then they suck and you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life. Even though she struggles with anxiety, she is still able to travel, create, and succeed at life and that is not only inspiring, but also comforting.
4. Emma Stone
Most people know Emma Stone as Hollywood’s laid back funny girl who is single handedly bringing the old Hollywood glamour back into comedy. But few people know that Emma struggled with panic disorders as a child and her struggles highlight the exact reason why we need people ( like Emma herself) in the public eye to speak out about mental illness. They need to know that they aren’t alone, that they will meet someone one day who will understand, and that life won’t always be the way it is when you’re at your worst. Below are some quotes that talk about her struggle to cope and how acting helped her feel ‘normal.’
“I was just kind of immobilized by it. I didn’t want to go to my friends’ houses or hang out with anybody, and nobody really understood.”
“There’s something about the immediacy of acting. You can’t afford to think about a million other things. You have to think of the task at hand. Acting forces me to be a zen master: What is happening right in this moment?”
3. Olivia Munn
One thing that sucks about mental illness is seeing people romanticize it. Anxiety isn’t a cute wide eyed girl who just needs a snuggle, it’s feeling like you’re going to die and having no idea why or how to stop it. Depression isn’t staring out the window, drinking tea, and waiting for someone to come along and tell you how wonderful you are. It’s irrational anger, not showering for days, and feeling numb and broken at the same time. And if people can’t romanticize an illness, they just don’t talk about it at all. There’s no way to romanticize trichotillomania (a disorder that causes people to compulsively pull out their own hair, sometimes without even noticing) so very few people talk about it. Which is why Olivia Munn’s openness on the subject is so refreshing and welcomed. The best way to end stigma is to talk openly and honestly about what you’re dealing with because someone out there is feeling the same way you are and they need to hear your words.
2. Brittany Snow
Below in an excerpt from this interview (that I highly recommend reading) in which Brittany details her struggles and what saved her life (proving just how important talking publicly about mental illness is.)
“I kept thinking, “Once you get to a specific number, you’re going to be happy.” …That’s the illness: You’ll never get there… That’s where the cutting came in. The more I couldn’t control my eating, the more I did it. I wanted to look at my wrist and be like, “See what you did? You ate ____.” It wasn’t about the food. It was an emotional problem. I wanted it to bleed, but I didn’t want to kill myself. It was about hurting myself so I could feel bad, cry and let it out. When I was 16, I read an article in a magazine about a model who was anorexic and bulimic and cut herself. I burst into tears. I saw myself. The model talked about how she got help and has an amazing life—I carried around that article in my back pocket for a month, to feel like there was hope. That article saved my life.”
1. Mara Wilson
In Mara Wilson’s autobiography “Where Am I Now?” she discusses the fear and anxiety she had towards a series of struggles she faced as a child that she would later learn were symptoms of OCD. Mara discusses the stress she felt at being different than her peers and her fears that there was something deeply wrong with her and how finding someone who had the same inexplicable thoughts as she did (in her case it was a fictional character) changed her life Once again I will state how important it is to talk about the things you’re struggling with. Bottling things up does nobody any favours and, like a shaken soda being opened, you’re bound to erupt sooner or later. Not only does talking about your issues free yourself but it also lets the people around you, who feel the same way you do, feel less alone in the world.
Sources: people.com, anxiety.org, teenvogue.com, buzzfeed.com, fuse.tv, ew.com, popsugar.com, aplus.com, mtv.com, variety.com, dailymail.co.uk
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