Mental illness is an invisible disease. It’s no surprise then, that because of its invisibility, people who haven’t suffered from its effects are often likely to write it off. As if ‘mental illness’ are code words that act as convenient excuses to write off or permit our bad moods or worse behaviour.
As many of us know, it’s all very real, but thanks to some major celebrity heavyweights, the conversation is being opened up. And in turn, they’re helping us open up. And not that I want any of us to be going through this, because the lows are so low — (I’ve been treating my own depression by taking once-daily pills for the past six and a half years) — and at times it’s hella hard to remember that that down moment will pass. But these voices are now being heard and it lets us know that we’re not alone. That we’re only human. That we can build a community of sorts with others in the same boat so we need not suffer in silence any longer.
In the March 2018 issue of Harper’s Bazaar, Selena Gomez, who has struggled with mental illness, and even cancelled a major tour in 2016 to enter rehab, was asked if she thinks 2018 will be a better year than the one we just had. And she got real AF in her response, saying, “I’m going to say yes because I believe that for myself. And anyone who knows me knows I will always start with my health and my well-being. I’ve had a lot of issues with depression and anxiety, and I’ve been very vocal about it, but it’s not something I feel I’ll ever overcome. There won’t be a day when I’m like, ‘Here I am in a pretty dress — I won!’ I think it’s a battle I’m gonna have to face for the rest of my life, and I’m okay with that because I know that I’m choosing myself over anything else. I’m starting my year off with that thought. I want to make sure I’m healthy. If that’s good, everything else will fall into place.”
And I commend her for getting real and so explicitly sharing her experience. For so long, people have rolled their eyes, and made ‘tough-life’ sarcastic comments when the rich, famous or strikingly-successful talk shop about their inner demons. But by writing off peoples’ real experiences, we as a society are doing more harm than good. So we need people like Instagram’s most followed person, Ms. Gomez, to speak her truth.
Other female role models like Gabrielle Union and Kristen Bell are sharing their stories too. In the March 2018 issue of ELLE Canada, Union opened up in more detail about the issues she wrote about in her memoir We’re Going To Need More Wine on the trauma of being raped, and the struggles of going through IVF treatments. She told Editor Vanessa Craft about women showing up in droves on her book tour because they connected with Union’s candid sharing of her experiences. “There are so many people who are suffering in solitude,” she says. “And when I started offering my story, people felt connected. It’s like a reference guide for those who are suffering or feel isolated. Some stories are helpful, some are just funny, but hopefully it’s that connective tissue that we sometimes don’t have in our lives.”
Actress Kristen Bell, meanwhile, penned an essay for Motto titled “I’m over staying silent about my depression.” She wrote, “Mental health check-ins should be as routine as going to the doctor or the dentist. After all, I’ll see the doctor if I have the sniffles. If you tell a friend that you are sick, his first response is likely, ‘You should get that checked out by a doctor.’ Yet if you tell a friend you’re feeling depressed, he will be scared or reluctant to give you that same advice. You know what? I’m over it.” (As an aside, it should go noted I wrote a piece a few years back for HuffPo with a similar title and sentiment. Stars, they’re just like us!) For her part, popstar Demi Lovato has also been remarkably candid about her struggles with eating disorders and drug addiction.
And it’s that sense of community, especially coming from some of our role models, that will help put mental illness in the forefront of people’s minds. Much like the #MeToo movement, we can only make changes when we speak our truth, share our tales, and look at how we can make a difference. And that a change can be made when we don’t go at it alone. When we use all the tools available to us to express what we’re going through, so we can be heard.
For once, and for all.