Promoting improved mental health education and the de-stigmatization of mental illness have long been central to my purpose as a writer, speaker and human being, which is why, when a global celebrity steps up to talk about this issue, it catches my attention and hopefully that of millions of others.
On October 9, The Guardian ran an editorial co-signed by Lady Gaga and World Health Organization Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom, “At present, every nation in the world is a ‘developing country’ when it comes to mental health,” said Gaga.
My original perception of Lady Gaga was as an immensely talented vocalist and performer known for wearing provocative costumes, like a meat dress or a jacket made of Kermit the Frog dolls. Best known for her powerful voice, she recently made her film acting debut in A Star is Born, alongside Bradley Cooper. The film is a remake of a 1978 film starring Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. Some in the movie industry insist A Star is Born is a no-brainer for best picture nomination and that Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper will be Oscar contenders. I look forward to seeing the movie this weekend.
A true original, Lady Gaga clearly hears her own drummer and dances to her own rhythm, dressing in costumes that are often avant-garde and weird, but somehow beautiful. She is a woman who defies classification or description. She has cultivated followers among millions of fans, who call themselves Little Monsters. Her message is one of pushing boundaries, embracing individuality and championing tolerance and acceptance.
I appreciate and admire Lady Gaga because she has chosen to use her fame and popularity to focus attention on youth empowerment. Her passion for philanthropy and social activism led her to launch, in 2012, the Born This Way Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on lifting up young adults and combatting bullying. Other high-profile, influential people like Oprah Winfrey, Deepak Chopra and Kathleen Sibelius (former US Secretary of Health and Human Services) have supported the Foundation, helping to raise approximately $3.5 million in donations.
Lady Gaga has also thrown herself behind the effort to destigmatize mental illness, address bullying and help young people channel their emotions into positive outcomes. One way she has done this is with the Born Brave Bus, which is a drop-in youth center that travels the country helping young people understanding that seeking help for themselves is the ultimate act of bravery. The bus connects youth with resources in their local communities that provide supportive services.
In my past life, as a teacher, principal and school superintendent, I always worked tirelessly with my staff to keep an eye out for children who might need special help dealing with mental health issues or who faced a trauma, like sexual assault. As a society, each of us must do everything we can to reach out to those who struggle emotionally to let them know that seeking treatment is valiant and not shameful.
Since my retirement, I have made it my mission to destigmatize mental illness, speaking at events across the country to spark conversations and let people know they’re not alone. Like Lady Gaga, I experienced mental illness and, through my own hard work, treatment and the supportive, helping hands of others, I have flourished. Now I feel that it’s my duty to speak out and advocate for change in our cultural understanding of mental illness and in the systems that provide treatment.
If you struggle with mental illness, you are not alone. I encourage you to talk with your friends and family and ask for help. Alternatively, if you know someone who is going through a hard time, I implore you to let them know they have your love and support.
© Tyra Manning 2018