eHealth, Mass Media, Mental Health , , , , , , , ,

Celebrities, Social Media, and Mental Illness

By Jacob Rohde

Earlier this month, Selena Gomez opened up to Harper’s Bazaar magazine about her struggles with mental illness [1]. When asked about her upcoming plans for the new year, Gomez responded:

“I will always start with my health and my wellbeing. 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… I think it’s a battle I’m gonna have to face for the rest of my life…”

Gomez is joined by several other celebrities, from Gina Rodriguez to Kid Cudi, who have spoken out about the realities of their mental illnesses and have used social media to publicly vocalize their related experiences [2]. For example, Gomez recently used Instagram to talk about her lupus diagnosis, which she has linked to her depression and anxiety [3]. All too often, celebrities are viewed as immune to such circumstances when, in reality, they share many of our own battles with mental illness. Social media allows celebrities, like Gomez, to connect with their audiences who may also struggle from mental illness, or to those who do not fully understand the complexity of mental illness symptoms.

Fifty percent of Americans will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime [4], yet public perceptions about mental illness remain highly stigmatized, especially among young adults and college students [5]. In my own experiences, I have witnessed several students express their reluctance to seek mental health services as to avoid being “outed” by peers and stereotyped.

Efforts to reduce mental illness stigma can benefit from the stories and experiences shared by celebrities through their social media accounts. Indeed, a recent study found that college students exposed to celebrity narratives about mental disorders were far less likely to stigmatize mental illness overall and had fewer negative perceptions about those who seek help for mental illness than students in control conditions [6]. Given this, celebrity use of social media as a platform to talk about mental illness may have a positive effect on how the public perceives mental illness.

Of course, I am not advocating for celebrities to share deeply personal experiences. However, if they choose to address certain issues pertaining to their mental health, it may serve to reduce the taboo culture currently surrounding depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. At minimum, doing so shows that celebrities, like Gomez, are not so different than ourselves.


Mental illness is a serious concern. If you are struggling, please seek professional help or reach out to the 24/7 suicide prevention hotline: 1-800-273-8255

If you are a UNC student, free support is available through the Counseling and Psychological Services program (CAPS). Information available here: https://caps.unc.edu/


References:

  1. Langford, K. (2018). Selena Gomez’s Wild Ride. Harper’s Bazaar. Retrieved from http://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/features/a15895669/selena-gomez-intervi ew/
  2. Yang, L. (2017). 23 celebrities who have opened up about their struggles with mental illness. Retrieved from http://www.thisisinsider.com/celebrities-depression-anxiety-mental-health-awaren ess-2017-11#cara-delevingne-struggled-with-depression-as-a-teenager-8
  3. Chiu, M. (2016). Selena gomez taking time off after dealing with ‘anxiety, panic attacks and depression’ due to her lupus diagnosis. People Magazine. Retrieved from http://people.com/celebrity/selena-gomez-taking-a-break-after-lupus-complication s/
  4. Kessler, R. C., Angermeyer, M., Anthony, J. C., De Graaf, R. O. N., Demyttenaere, K., Gasquet, I., … & Kawakami, N. (2007). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of mental disorders in the World Health Organization’s World Mental Health Survey Initiative. World Psychiatry, 6(3), 168.
  5. Eisenberg, D., Downs, M. F., Golberstein, E., & Zivin, K. (2009). Stigma and help seeking for mental health among college students. Medical Care Research and Review, 66(5), 522-541.
  6. Ferrari, A. (2016). Using celebrities in abnormal psychology as teaching tools to decrease stigma and increase help seeking. Teaching of Psychology, 43(4), 329-333.