Lady Gaga isn’t one to shy away from speaking her mind. In an article published on The Guardian this week, the 32-year-old co-writes about the devastating number of people who take their own lives each year, and asks for global change in how mental health is viewed, treated and funded.
The piece is titled “800,000 people kill themselves every year. What can we do?” which is a click-worthy headline to be sure, but also a thought provoking one. In a time where our attention span has grown so short, opening with such an alarming stat is almost necessary to grab the attention of the average reader. Eight hundred thousand is a shocking number in this context.
The article is co-penned by Tedros Adhanom, the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO).
“Suicide is the most extreme and visible symptom of the larger mental health emergency we are so far failing to adequately address. Stigma, fear and lack of understanding compound the suffering of those affected and prevent the bold action that is so desperately needed and so long overdue,” the pair writes. “One in four of us will have to deal with a mental health condition at some point in our lives, and if we’re not directly affected, someone we care for is likely to be.”
According to the piece, suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth aged 15 to 29. While suicide is the most devastating result of the stigma and underfunding that surrounds mental health, as Gaga states, even more common illnesses like anxiety and depression still go untreated far too often.
“We can no longer afford to be silenced by stigma or stymied by misguided ideas that portray these conditions as a matter of weakness or moral failing,” the article reads. “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.”
The piece does offer a glimmer of hope in the dark. Programs in different countries and communities are springing up. In Zimbabwe, some community members are holding counseling sessions on public benches as a neutral space to have conversations about mental health struggles, and here in Canada, Bell Let’s Talk Day continues to drive the conversation forward. In 2018, $93.4 million was donated to mental health initiatives and 87 per cent of Canadians say they’re now more aware of mental health because of the Bell Let’s Talk campaign. Baby steps.
Meanwhile Lady Gaga’s own Born This Way Foundation, which was founded in 2012, empowers youth by creating a safe space for positive dialogue around mental health and LGBTQ+ communities.
“The time has come for us all, collectively, to tackle the causes and symptoms of mental illness, and provide care for those who suffer from it,” says Gaga.