We need to talk — about mental health. Did you know that one in seven people in Singapore have experienced mental health struggles at some point in their lifetimes? No? Well, that’s kind of what we’re talking about. In spite of the prevalence and impact of mental health issues in the population, such conditions remain shrouded in suspicion and stigma, which makes it even more difficult to open up and ask for help when you need it.
A nationwide study conducted in 2016 revealed that a significant percentage of people who face mental and emotional distress do not seek help for reasons attributable to the high levels of stigma in society, such as feelings of embarrassment, fear of judgment, anticipated discrimination, and the like. Which is alarming enough under so-called normal circumstances, let alone in a global pandemic like the one we are living through today. Experts have already warned of a potential mental health crisis, as the psychosocial repercussions of the coronavirus outbreak reverberate around the world. Meaning it has really never been more important to challenge the stigma and to bridge the treatment gap.
Thankfully, the past few years have witnessed a shift in attitudes toward mental health, wherein open conversations on these issues are increasingly taking place in the public sphere, instead of swept under the carpet. And that probably has something to do with the growing number of celebrities who are not afraid to speak up and get real about their personal mental health journeys, in interviews and on social media. In fact, research has shown that when celebrities share openly about their own struggles, it can help to shatter stereotypes, encourage honest discussions, spread hope about recovery, and even inspire others to seek help.
Below, we’ve rounded up 11 local and international celebrities who have spoken candidly about living with depression, anxiety, eating disorders and more, from Ariana Grande to Lizzo to Zayn Malik.
Trigger warning: the quotes below include references to anxiety, depression, suicide, and other potentially triggering topics.
The Game of Thrones star opened up about her battle with an eating disorder and depression last year on Dr. Phil McGraw’s podcast, Phil in the Blanks. Talking about the toll that critical comments on her social media took on her mental health, she said, “I used to get a lot of comments about my skin and my weight and how I wasn’t a good actress.”
It was enough to warp Turner’s view of herself. “I would just believe it,” she confessed. “I would just say, ‘Yeah, I am spotty, I am fat, I am a bad actress.’ I just believed it. I’d get them to tighten my corset a lot. I just got very, very self-conscious.”
Now doing “much better”, the actress credits therapy, medication, and her husband Joe Jonas with helping her to rise above. “When someone tells you they love you every day, it makes you really think about why that is, and I think it makes you love yourself a bit more.”
In an interview with Gayle King earlier this year, Billie Eilish got real about her experiences with depression, anxiety and self-harm, which she has lived with since she was 13. “I was so unhappy, and I was so, like, joyless,” the ‘bury a friend’ singer said. “I don’t want to be too dark but I genuinely, like, didn’t think I’d make it to 17.” She recalled an incident in Berlin, where she contemplated suicide. “I was alone in my hotel, and I remember there was a window right there,” she shared. “I remember crying because I was thinking about how… the way I was gonna die was that I was gonna do it.”
With the support of her family and therapy, Eilish is now in a good place, and she uses her platform to reach out to fans who are going through similar experiences.
As a fierce advocate for mental health awareness, Demi Lovato has never shied away from talking about her own journey. Not only does the singer and actress continue to challenge the negative stigma by speaking up about her experiences with and ongoing recovery from bipolar disorder, depression, bulimia and addiction, she has also produced a documentary on mental health called Beyond Silence, and released another about her personal struggles, Simply Complicated.
“Woke up feeling not super confident even tho my [Pretty Big Deal] episode just came out,” Lovato wrote on Instagram to her over 88 million followers. “Let this be a reminder to anyone struggling out there — this life is a journey with tons of ups and downs but you can’t give up.”
Lizzo is the queen of power anthems on empowerment and self-love, but the singer and rapper has had her fair share of struggles. Giving an insight into her battle with depression, last year she posted a video on Instagram where she said, “I’m depressed and there’s no one I can talk to because there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Life hurts.”
Lizzo continued in the caption, “I self-love so hard because everything feels like rejection… it feel like the whole world be ghostin me sometimes. Sad af today.” But she also shared her hopes with her fans, declaring “But this too shall pass.”
Ariana Grande has experienced a lot in her 27 years of existence, and recently, she’s been opening up more about what she’s going through with PTSD, depression, and anxiety (she even shared scans of her brain!). She’s explained her thoughts on therapy via Twitter, replying a fan’s question by saying “in all honesty therapy has saved my life so many times. if you’re afraid to ask for help, don’t be. u don’t have to be in constant pain & u can process the trauma. i’ve got a lot of work to do, but it’s a start to even be aware that it’s possible.”
One major misconception about eating disorders is that it only affects middle class white women, when the truth is eating disorders can affect anyone and everyone, regardless of age, race, gender, or sexual orientation.
And that’s why Zayn Malik talking about his eating disorder is so important. In his autobiography, the former One Direction member wrote, “Something I’ve never talked about in public before, but which I have come to terms with since leaving the band, is that I was suffering from an eating disorder… It got quite serious, although at the time I didn’t recognise it for what it was. I think it was about control. I didn’t feel like I had control over anything else in my life, but food was something I could control, so I did.”
Malik explained that he overcame his struggles with the help of his mother. “Once I got over the control, the eating just came back into place, super naturally. I came back to the UK and spent some time with my mum and got some TLC, and she cooked me food and I got back in touch, mentally, with a lot of the things I’d lost.”
The Grammy Award-winning singer is a legend, not only for her incredible music and unforgettable ensembles, but also for her dedication to breaking down the barriers that surround conversations on mental health. Speaking to the Today show a few years ago, Gaga shared, “I suffer from a mental illness; I suffer from PTSD. I’ve never told anyone that, so here we are. But the kindness that’s been shown to me, by doctors as well as my family and friends, it’s really saved my life.”
This year, she also spoke of her struggles with depression in an interview, saying “I have clinical depression. There’s something going on in my brain where the dopamine and serotonin are not firing the same way, and I can’t get there.” She wants people to know, however, that it’s possible to fight through the pain: “If you’re in pain and listening to [my] music, just know that I know what it’s like to be in pain. And I know what it’s like to also not let it ruin your life.”
Shawn Mendes’ hit ballad ‘In My Blood’ isn’t just a chart-topping single, it’s also an intimate glimpse into the singer/songwriter’s ongoing battle with anxiety. “Talking about the problem, putting it out there, was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done,” Mendes explained in an interview last year. “I still struggle with it but… we’re all in this together.”
He further detailed that, “The whole reason I wrote [‘In My Blood’] was to be like, at the end, ‘it’s not in my blood to do that.’”
You likely remember Jeanette Aw’s raw portrayal of an actress who falls into depression after several career setbacks in the 2015 drama series, The Dream Makers II. But what you might not know is that her character cuts close to the local star’s own mental health journey.
In an Instagram post, Aw bared her soul, writing “It was a long and arduous journey taking ono #ZhaoFeiEr again in #zzsf2. So many underlying currents that can’t be spoken. It was a very lonely journey that few will understand. At the end of the day, what broke me down made me stronger but I can only say this because I recovered from it. I learnt so much about depression and even experienced it myself.”
She also urged, “Even the strongest person buckle[s] at times and most times the simple act of concern from someone can be the pillar of support and strength during the most vulnerable moments. Depression does not hit only the weak but this is the misconception many people have and they belittle the sadness and label depressed individuals as weaklings. I hope for things to change.”
Many people admire Dwayne Johnson for his physical prowess and unexpected sense of humour, but we have to say we respect “The Rock” for his courage in speaking so candidly about his battle with depression (okay, and the other stuff too). He has spoken of years of struggling with depression, ever since he was a teenager and witnessed his mother attempt suicide.
Johnson has also shared what helped him to cope in a YouTube interview: “I found that, with depression, one of the most important things you could realise is that you’re not alone. You’re not the first to go through it; you’re not going to be the last to go through it. And oftentimes – it happens – you just feel like you’re alone. You feel like it’s only you. You’re in your bubble. And I wish I had someone at that time who could just pull me aside and [say], ‘Hey, it’s gonna be okay. It’ll be okay’. So, I wish I knew that [back then].”
Social media can be a double-edged sword, but that’s not going to stop Lili Reinhart from using her platform to help challenge the stigma on mental health issues. Posting a series of deeply honest Instagram Stories, the Riverdale actress wrote, “Friendly reminder for anyone who needs to hear it: therapy is never something to be ashamed of. Everyone can benefit from seeing a therapist. Doesn’t matter how old you are or how ‘proud’ you’re trying to be.” She added, “We are all human. And we all struggle. Don’t suffer in silence. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. I’m 22. I have anxiety and depression. And today I started therapy again.”
If you're struggling and need to talk to someone, don't hesitate to call these hotlines:
National Care Hotline: 1800-202-6868
Samaritans of Singapore: 1800-221-4444
Silver Ribbon Singapore: 6385-3714
Institute of Mental Health's Helpline: 6389-2222