Lady Gaga joined with the director general of the World Health Organization on Tuesday (Oct. 9) to pen an urgent essay for The Guardian about the lack of reliable mental health support services around the world and the need to stop stigmatizing treatable conditions.
“By the time you finish reading this, at least six people will have killed themselves around the world,” begins the essay by Gaga and Dr. Tedros Adhanom entitled “800,000 People Kill Themselves Every Year. What Can We Do?”
“Those six are a tiny fraction of the 800,000 people who will kill themselves this year – more than the population of Washington DC, Oslo or Cape Town,” it continues. “Sometimes they are famous names such as Anthony Bourdain or Kate Spade that make headlines, but they are all sons or daughters, friends or colleagues, valued members of families and communities.” The pair write that suicide is the “most extreme and visible symptom” of a global mental health emergency that the world is failing to address properly because of stigma, fear and a lack of understanding.
Citing statistics that say one in four of us will deal with a mental health condition at some point in our lives, the pair note that young people are most vulnerable, with suicide being the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year-olds and half of all mental illnesses beginning by 14. “Yet despite the universality of the issue, we struggle to talk about it openly or to offer adequate care or resources,” they write. “Within families and communities, we often remain silenced by a shame that tells us that those with mental illness are somehow less worthy or at fault for their own suffering.”
In June, Gaga was joined by her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, in accepting the global changemakers award at the Children Mending Hearts’ Empathy Rocks fundraiser, where they were recognized for their work with the Born This Way Foundation, an organization that works to “provide youth with genuine opportunities, quality resources and platforms to make their voices heard.” While accepting the honor, Gaga spoke from the heart about mental illness, suicide and mental health in the wake of Spade and Bourdain’s deaths earlier in the week.
“I have struggled for a long time, both being public and not public about my mental health issues or my mental illness,” Gaga said at the time. “But I truly believe that secrets keep you sick.” The singer urged kindness as a way to solve problems and in the essay she again encourages compassion for those facing mental health conditions, suggesting we treat them like someone who has suffered a physical injury or illness, rather than ostracizing, blaming and condemning them.
With less than one percent of global aid going to mental health — which costs the world $2.5 trillion a year — Gaga and Adhanom say that we can no longer afford to stigmatize mental health issues or view them as moral failings or weakness. “Research shows there is a fourfold return on investment for every dollar spent on treating depression and anxiety, the most common mental health conditions, making spending on the issue a great investment for both political leaders and employers, in addition to generating savings in the health sector,” they write.
They key, they say, is to build communities that “respect and prioritize” mental wellness and learn how to support our loved ones who are facing mental illness and urge our governments to put it at the top of their agendas. “The two of us have taken different paths in life,” they write. “But both of us have seen how political leadership, funding, innovation and individual acts of bravery and compassion can change the world. It is time to do the same for mental health.”
Click here to read the full essay.