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A Mind of Her Own: 7 Famous Women Helping to #endthestigma of Mental Illness

mental illness and celebrities

Behind every photograph is an untold story. When it comes to our favorite celebrities, we often don’t know what’s truly going on behind the scenes and the glossy publicity snapshots. Safe to say, life is not as glamorous as the images would have us think.

With so much recent talk about mental health and mental health disorders, more and more famous people are joining the conversation to talk about how mental illness has affected their lives. The December 2016 death of beloved “Star Wars” actress Carrie Fisher once again brought the topic to the forefront. Fisher was one of Hollywood’s most outspoken personalities in terms of her mental health struggles. Recently her daughter, actress Billie Lourd, quoted Fisher on Instagram saying: “‘If my life weren't funny then it would just be true and that is unacceptable.’ Finding the funny might take a while but I learned from the best and her voice will forever be in my head and in my heart.”

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Baring your private struggles in a public space is not easy for individuals or their families. But when well-known individuals put a face to mental illness, not only does it help raise awareness, it also helps others who are living with similar challenges realize that they are not alone.

Hats off to these seven fearless females for sharing their stories and making great strides to help #endthestigma.

1. Kristen Bell

She’s one of Hollywood’s leading funny ladies, but in her personal life, Bell has battled depression and anxiety — and she has no qualms talking about it. She penned her own essay on her experiences with mental health disorders for Motto, a platform from the editors of Time magazine. Her words made headlines across the globe, shattering the stigma about mental health and showing how mental illness can take many forms.

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In her essay, Bell wrote: “There is such an extreme stigma about mental health issues, and I can’t make heads or tails of why it exists. Anxiety and depression are impervious to accolades or achievements. Anyone can be affected, despite their level of success or their place on the food chain. In fact, there is a good chance you know someone who is struggling with it since nearly 20 percent of American adults face some form of mental illness in their lifetime. So why aren’t we talking about it?”

2. Hayden Panettiere

Panettiere became somewhat of a leading figure and unofficial spokeswoman for postpartum depression. Ten months after giving birth to her daughter Kaya, she came out publicly to seek in-patient treatment for her illness. When explaining her decision to speak publicly about her illness, she said to Self, “I was always so terrified that people weren’t going to accept me. I finally just went, I’m tired of living afraid. I’m tired of living in fear of what people are going to think, so, you know, I’m just going to put it all out there on the table and I’m not going to worry about the judgment."

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3. Catherine Zeta Jones

Catherine Zeta Jones, known for her fiery role in “The Mask of Zorro” and Oscar-winning acting in the film “Chicago,” was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. Jones has gone in and out of treatment as she sees fit to maintain her well-being. She first sought treatment back in 2011, and her publicist told Time it was to help her deal with the stress of the past year, including her husband Michael Douglas’ throat cancer. As part of her periodic care, she returned to in-patient treatment in 2013, and most recently in 2016.

Understanding that maintenance and awareness of her illness helps, Jones has not been shy to talk about having bipolar disorder: “Finding out that it was called something was the best thing that ever happened to me! The fact that there was a name for my emotions and that a professional could talk me through my symptoms was very liberating,” she told Good Housekeeping. “There are amazing highs and very low lows. My goal is to be consistently in the middle. I’m in a very good place right now.”

4. Simone Biles

Just when you thought you couldn’t love Olympic gymnast Simone Biles anymore, she stood proud about her diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) after a hacker released her medical records for all the world to see. She tweeted about it, saying, “Having ADHD, and taking medicine for it is nothing to be ashamed of nothing that I'm afraid to let people know.”

So instead of being shamed for use of “illicit” drugs, like the hacker had intended, Biles became a bigger inspiration from her tweeted response: “I have ADHD and I have taken medicine for it since I was a kid. Please know, I believe in a clean sport, have always followed the rules, and will continue to do so as fair play is critical to sport and very important to me.”

5. Demi Lovato

The former Disney Channel actress, now world-famous pop singer, has struggled with mental illness from early childhood. She told Elle that by the age of 7 she had suicidal thoughts, and as a teen experienced eating disorders, self-harm, and drug abuse. Diagnosed now with bipolar disorder, Lovato has done everything except shy away from mental illness. She has sought treatment herself through rehab and is now the leader of Be Vocal: Speak Up for Mental Health, an initiative “encouraging people across America to use their voice in support of mental health.”

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Through her efforts, Lovato is helping fight against the stigma of mental illness. As a call of encouragement to those with mental illnesses, Lovato said on Be Vocal’s website: “If you are struggling today with a mental health condition, you may not be able to see it as clearly right away but please don’t give up — things can get better. You are worthy of more and there are people who can help. Asking for help is a sign of strength.”

6. Carrie Fisher

Remembered for her iconic role as Princess Leia, Fisher made an impact both on and off the screen. Fisher was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 24 and took the opportunity to become an advocate for mental illness. She spoke publicly about her battle with bipolar disorder, including in her own column for The Guardian: “We have been given a challenging illness, and there is no other option than to meet those challenges. Think of it as an opportunity to be heroic — not ‘I survived living in Mosul during an attack’ heroic, but an emotional survival. An opportunity to be a good example to others who might share our disorder.”

And Fisher provided one last nod to breaking the stigma against mental illness, when her ashes were placed in an urn resembling a giant Prozac pill. She’s still making us nod our heads in admiration, even in her passing.

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7. Glenn Close

It doesn’t always take someone with a mental illness to advocate for the cause. The six-time Academy award-winning actress has taken a stand to end the stigma surrounding mental illness. When her sister, Jessie Close, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and her nephew, Calen Pick, with schizoaffective disorder, Close used her platform to promote conversation about mental health.

In 2010, the Close family started the nonprofit organization, Bring Change 2 Mind (BC2M). Since then, the organization has developed public service announcements such as the campaign #mindourfuture, and other programs at the university and high school levels. In an interview with Conscious magazine about the importance of helping people with mental illness, Close said, “Ultimately, our society (as a whole) needs to realize the wealth of talent that is there in the community living with mental illness, and so our society needs to invest in these people — not ignore them.”

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Bottom line

The truth is, mental illness doesn’t care what you look like, what you do, how much money you make, or how happy you are before it hits you. Mental illness, just like physical illness, does not discriminate, but thankfully, it doesn’t have to incriminate anyone’s life either. Mental illness is treatable and nothing to be ashamed of. Thanks to many celebrities who have been open with their own battles, we can all benefit from learning more about mental illness and how to cope.

Chaunie Brusie
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