Taylor Swift, Lizzo and others are changing mental health messaging

In this video, Amanda Calhoun, MD, MPH, of the Yale Child Study Center at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, highlights celebrities who have opened up about mental health issues and how medical professionals can integrate these stories into the education of professionals and patients. Calhoun and his colleague recently wrote an article in University psychiatry on the positive effect of self-disclosure of mental illness by celebrities.

Here is a transcript of his remarks:

It’s so interesting, you know, not only the album [Taylor Swift’s “Midnights“] herself quite monumental in the themes she talks about – in regards to the new Taylor Swift album – but also the responses on Twitter to the new Taylor Swift album have been amazing, and I’ve definitely been following that too.

She talks about having a eating disorder, weight wrestling, and even particular lines from her album have been taken down by fans and retweeted. She also talks about depression. I know there’s a line where she kind of compares her depression to a shift at the cemetery, and that really got to a lot of people, and thinking about how depression can be related to insomnia and sleepless nights and sort of disrupting your sleep-wake cycle, which is very much related to depression.

I feel like not only was the album itself very monumental, when it comes to talking about mental health issues and topics in an artful and creative way, but I was also very happy to see how well it resonated with fans and how much they really listen to the lyrics and the symbolism behind those lyrics.

People even retweeted things like ‘This resonated a lot with me and my depression or my eating disorder’ or ‘I see myself in this album. I was listening to this and crying at night. So that really resonated with the fans, and I think that’s really, really important.

Another celebrity I want to highlight that I’ve been a big fan of was Lizzo. Lizzo, who is currently on tour, has done so much for body positivity and talking about anti-black racism and transphobia and so many things. I mean, his tour, which I went to see, was literally like therapy; I felt like I was in therapy during his tour. She was talking about how special everyone is and [to] love and esteem you, so celebrities are doing a lot of amazing things, and I’m so excited to see what they continue to do and think about ways psychiatrists can continue to partner with them.

Megan Thee Stallion has a whole online platform now. One of the things that I really like about her website is that on the website you can actually search for various therapists especially for black people. [and] Black patients. It’s a real problem for minority patients not being able to find therapists from their background, not just for black people, but for other people of color, LGBTQ, people from predominantly minority and marginalized backgrounds often seek out therapists who have this background, or have expertise in working with people from their background.

So what I really love about Megan Thee Stallion’s platform is that it’s about empowering women to be a strong woman and an amazing woman while seeking therapy. That it’s good as a woman, especially as a black woman, where… personally, as a black woman, I represent less than 2% of psychiatrists. So there is a real need for more black therapists, and often black patients are looking for a black therapist, but they don’t know how to find us. So I love that she has so many resources to seek therapy.

There’s a lot of emphasis, I guess, on the negative impact of talking about mental health in the media and even among celebrities. Like “Oh, you’re spreading misinformation” and “What if you’re inappropriately portraying mental illness?” and just all these things that are very real issues in the media and things that we have to consider, like, are we actually putting out good information? But there’s actually a lot of really positive things about what celebrities are doing with their platforms.

In the newspaper, we are talking about several celebrities revealing a mental illness. So in the newspaper we talked about Demi Lovato and people like that, where after you kind of revealed they had a mental illness, you actually saw not just an increase in help-seeking behaviors, but a decrease in how the general public [negatively] seen people with mental illnesses. So I think it’s really, really important.

I think there are also a lot of benefits to using these celebrities as role models and connecting with our patients. When we talk about mental illnesses with children or teenagers, in particular, comparing them to the celebrities that exist, to the platforms that exist. Basically, using all the positives of celebrities, and all the kids, teens, and adults who look up to those celebrities, and basically saying, “Hey, here’s an example of someone approving that they have a mental illness, or which has a platform that de-stigmatizes mental illness. The AS have you seen? What do you think?’ So it can be a very good way to talk to patients.

I think there’s a lot to learn and a lot to do with celebrities when it comes to partnering. And I think sometimes, you know, psychiatry can be a siled field. We can kind of be in our psychiatry bubble. So it can be this mystical thing; nobody knows what’s going on, like ‘What is psychiatry? What do we do?’ So I also think that by partnering with celebrities, we can share accurate information in a way that can be widely disseminated. And also to share that we have normal conversations; psychiatrists and our psychiatric patients are ordinary people. We have fun, we talk about things, it’s not that spooky, mystical stuff.

I think we still have a lot of work to do, but I’ve been pretty optimistic about the new generations to come. I think there seems to be a lot more discussion about mental health in a positive, specific light that I co-sign a lot.

  • Emilie Hutto is an associate video producer and editor for MedPage Today. She is based in Manhattan.

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