Celebrities have more influence than ever with social media putting them in their fans' literal hands. As a result, people often feel they are owed full access to the stars' private lives. That is a false assumption, but some celebrities across the entertainment spectrum choose to fully humanize themselves in an effort to advocate for causes larger than any one of us. Here are 20 celebrities who put in work outside of their public-facing careers to advocate for mental health.
Chrissy Teigen's social media feeds are often sure bets for comedic relief, but the model and entrepreneur has never shied away from using her platform to promote vulnerability. Most recently, Teigen opened up in September about losing her unborn son, Jack, due to uncontrollable bleeding. Her Instagram post garnered over 11 million likes. In the months since the 35-year-old has continued to speak openly about her endometriosis and emotional fallout. "I'm still in therapy about it," Teigen said, in part, during an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in April 2021. "It was a really transformative thing for me, and in a way, he really saved me because I don't think that I would have discovered therapy and then sobriety."
Demi Lovato's mental health journey hit a very public inflection point when she suffered a heart attack and three strokes after an accidental overdose in 2018, which she will speak about in excruciating detail during her Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil docuseries. The multi-platinum recording artist and actress has been very open about her years-long battle with addiction, bipolar disorder, and eating disorders—both in interviews, on social media, and through her music.
Nobody in history has experienced the fame monster quite like Justin Bieber, who became the world's first true YouTube star in 2009. Since then, Bieber has done more than can fit into a slideshow caption—and otherworldly fame came at a cost. In his 10-part YouTube docuseries Seasons, the multi-talented artist gave an unprecedented look at his journey. In the fifth episode, titled "The Dark Season," Bieber didn't hold back when describing how intense his anxiety became and how wrapped up he once was in drugs as an unhealthy coping mechanism. Justin Bieber: Next Chapter, uploaded to YouTube last October, saw him vulnerable once again—even admitting to suicidal thoughts at some point in his life—while using his power to encourage his fans to remain hopeful.
Pete Davidson may sometimes dress up his mental health advocacy in self-deprecating or crude jokes, but he is authentic all the same. "I've been in and out of mental health facilities since I was 9," the Saturday Night Live staple, who lost his father in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, told Variety in August 2018. "I tried to drown myself in the pool when I was in fourth or fifth grade." Davidson had a more recent and very public suicidal scare, but the actor and comedian continues to work through it and lend a voice to borderline personality disorder.
"You don't have to struggle alone," said actress Lana Condor, who is best known for starring in the beloved To All The Boys franchise, to begin an encouraging February video monologue for SELF. "A lot of people want to because they don't want to be an inconvenience to others, and I definitely think that that was the case for me. But if you open up, chances are, someone can relate to you." The 23-year-old went on to recount her struggle through body dysmorphia that began by doing ballet in her adolescence.
Kid Cudi's discography has been credited by a significant faction of people to have helped them square away their inner demons or simply feel understood. The prolific rapper, born Scott Mescudi, revealed to Billboard's Brad Wete in April 2016 that his healing music comes from a place of mutual suffering. "I used drugs to fix my depression," he said. In October 2016, Cudi left nothing unsaid in a Facebook post letting his fans know he would be stepping away for a while after checking himself into a rehabilitation facility "for depression and suicidal urges."
After years of putting in the work on himself, he joined Zane Lowe for an Apple Music interview surrounding his December 2020 album Man on the Moon III: The Chosen and dove yet again into what he learned in rehab and where he is now.
Emma Stone set the record straight in 2011, at the inception of her now unstoppable acting career, when she told Glamour's Amy Spencer, "I had massive anxiety as a child. I was in therapy. From 8 to 10, I was borderline agoraphobic. I could not leave my mom's side. I don't really have panic attacks anymore, but I had really bad anxiety."
As her profile has risen, so has her dedication to mental health advocacy. The Oscar winner has worked with the Child Mind Institute on several campaigns, including 2017's #MyYoungerSelf and last year's #WeThriveInside.
Big Sean has bars for days, but the 32-year-old certified platinum rapper had tweets on tweets on tweets in early September 2020. Sean Don shared his candid stream of consciousness about his mental health journey—specifically while working on his Detroit 2 album, which had dropped three days earlier. That was hardly the first time. In March 2019, he shared again with his fans in an Instagram video. "I wasn't feeling like myself, and I couldn't figure out why," he said. "I just felt lost, and I didn't know how I got there." In a subsequent video, he said he had started therapy because he realized something was happening in his brain that "required some special attention" beyond the meditating he has habitually done since he was 17 years old.
Selena Gomez has been an advocate for health from every angle. The 28-year-old actress and recording artist gave an exclusive statement to People that said, in part, she "discovered that anxiety, panic attacks, and depression can be side effects of lupus," and she needed to step away from her demanding career to tend to herself. She was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which she revealed publicly for the first time while appearing on Miley Cyrus' Bright Minded talk show last April. Gomez is a big proponent of therapy.
Similar to Selena Gomez, Lady Gaga has become a public face for autoimmune disorders and the ways they negatively affect mental health. Gaga has fibromyalgia. Her 2017 Five Foot Two Netflix documentary gave a raw glimpse into the Academy Award and Oscars winner's daily, painful battle with the chronic disease.
Gaga doubled down on her vulnerability during a discussion with Oprah, which was part of the latter's 2020 Vision: Your Life in Focus tour (h/t Teen Vogue): "Medicine really helped me. A lot of people are afraid of medicine for their brains to help them. I really want to erase the stigma around this," she said. "I'm sick of saying it over and over again. Not everybody has access to these things, not everybody has money for these things. I want the money for it, I want the best doctors in the world, and I want us to understand the brain and get on the same page about it so Gen Z does not have to deal with this the way we are right now. Mental health is a crisis."
The pop icon's Born This Way Foundation also does work related to mental wellness.
Bless Teen Vogue's Jasmine Gomez for rounding up nine times Ariana Grande advocated for mental health in extremely brave ways: sharing her brain scan for PTSD, crediting therapy with saving her life, and more. The Thank U, Next singer-songwriter has experienced more trauma than anybody deserves—from the deadly Manchester Arena bombing to losing her former lover Mac Miller to an accidental overdose—but rather than back away from the spotlight, she has leaned in and made sure to use it for good.
Serena Williams has as strong a claim as anybody to the world's greatest athlete title. (Side note: her husband, Alexis Ohanian, wins t-shirt of the year.) As strong as she has been on the court en route to 23 grand slam titles and countless other records, Williams was even stronger when she took to Instagram in August 2018 to open up about postpartum depression she experienced after giving birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia, and nearly dying in the process. "I’m here to say: if you are having a rough day or week--it’s ok--I am, too!!!" she wrote.
Athletes everywhere have been working to break the barrier surrounding mental health. Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love started a ripple effect in basketball with his essay for The Players' Tribune in March 2018, where he opened up about anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. The 32-year-old NBA champion wrote a follow-up last September.
Michael Phelps' primary legacy will undoubtedly be as the most decorated Olympian to ever live, but the former swimmer is forging a new one in his life outside the pool. Phelps penned a provocative essay about his mental health in the heart of the pandemic last year for ESPN, as told to Wayne Drehs. Long before that, he owned up to a 2014 DUI that led to a 45-day rehab stay. Phelps starred in an ad for Talkspace in May 2018.
When you look at Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, a lot of descriptors come to mind: charismatic, masculine, strong, supernova. The reason they say not to judge a book by its cover is that even someone like The Rock can suffer. "We all go thru the sludge/s—t and depression never discriminate," he tweeted in April 2018, responding to a separate post about his mother's suicide attempt when he was 15 years old. "Took me a long time to realize it but the key is to not be afraid to open up. Especially us dudes have a tendency to keep it in. You're not alone."
Outside of her acclaimed work acting in the likes of Empire and Hidden Figures—and a laundry list of other roles—Taraji P. Henson is devoted to improving suicide rates among Black youth and mental health in the Black community at large. The actress founded the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, named after her late father, in 2018.
“I’ve experienced mental illness in my family," Henson told Essence's Jasmine Grant in 2019 while giving testimony on Capitol Hill over a three-day span. "I’ve certainly seen it in the community and even in the workplace. When it comes to African American people, we don’t deal with it. We pray about it, we shun it, we just don’t talk about it. How are we going to help ourselves if we don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable?”
As the son of the late Princess Diana and Prince Charles, Prince Harry was a celebrity before he was old enough to understand the concept. The Duke of Sussex sat down for a podcast with the Telegraph's Bryony Gordon in 2017 and said, in part (h/t Forbes), he had been "very close to total breakdown on numerous occasions when all sorts of grief and lies and misconceptions are coming to you from every angle."
His wife, Meghan Markle, is newer to the Royal spotlight, but it didn't take long for her to feel the tumultuous effects. On World Mental Health Day last October, the couple gave a rare joint interview to Spotify's Teenager Therapy. "The moment that people start to think about mental health, immediately people think about a small group of people as opposed to every single one of us," Prince Harry said, while Markle added: "It's almost unsurvivable ... because I don't care if you're 15 or you're 25, if people are saying things about you that aren't true, what that does to your mental and emotional health is so damaging."
Billie Eilish was pulled into the music industry at an impressionable age thanks to her viral song "Ocean Eyes" in 2016. The 19-year-old is Vogue's March cover star, and she used the opportunity to speak candidly about body dysmorphia and advice she gives to fans about self-harm. Separately, in a September 2019 story for Elle, she was just as raw: "I was a 16-year-old girl who was really unstable. I’m in the happiest place of my life, and I didn’t think that I would even make it to this age."
If there is an artist who could exclusively trademark turning real-life heartbreak into award-winning music, it's Taylor Swift. However, the 31-year-old doesn't lose her vulnerable superpowers away from her guitar. In an April 2019 interview with The Zach Sang Show, she admitted to struggling just like everybody else: "One thing to always keep tabs on is the fact that we have to know that there is no 'happily ever after' where we're just happy forever. Happiness is always going to be a struggle and a challenge that we have to try and meet. Self-worth is always going to be something, it's a process of trying to get there. That's not naturally how we're going to feel all the time." She added elsewhere in the interview: "There have been times where I needed to take years off because I just felt exhausted, or I felt really low or really bad." Swift also revealed her past struggling with an eating disorder in her January 2020 Netflix documentary Miss Americana.
Dax Shepard has become a prominent poster boy for sobriety in Hollywood. He was clean from his addictions to alcohol and cocaine or other hard drugs for 16 years before publicly revealing he had relapsed on prescription painkillers in late 2020. The Parenthood actor hosts the wildly successful Armchair Expert podcast, where he rips bandaids off in every way imaginable, digging into his own mental and emotional struggles as well as his guests'. In January, Shepard joined The Ellen DeGeneres Show to speak again on his renewed recovery: "I did not want to [admit it] at all. I had all kinds of bizarre fears. ... I have people who write me, and I love that. That's my favorite thing about being in public. I was just terrified I would lose that." But his friend helped him to realize the best way he could continue to help his fans was to be transparent about restarting his journey.
Megan Armstrong (@megankarmstrong) is a writer with previous work appearing in places such as Billboard, Bleacher Report, GQ and others. She's most interested in writing about people and how they live their lives, through the framework of music, entertainment and sports.