International Women’s Day: Mental Health Heroes.
By Saskia Harper
Today marks the celebration of International Women’s Day; the day to commemorate womanhood and acknowledge the strides we still have to make as a society towards gender equality. This year’s theme, ‘Choose to Challenge’, encourages us all to choose to celebrate women’s accomplishments around the world, whilst still challenging the system that continues to thrive on gender bias and inequality.
To mark the occasion, we’re showcasing some of the amazing women who have achieved great things while battling with their mental health. Their strength shows us that there’s no shame in struggling and that no matter how wonderful and enviable your life may look on the surface, anyone can be going through difficulties behind closed doors. The conversations that they inspire help shatter the stigma surrounding mental illness and remind us that we can still achieve great things even when our mental health is low.
From making her debut as a young Disney actress from the age of 16 to now, a successful pop artist, Demi Lovato has been extremely open about her journey with mental illness. The singer has spoken previously about her bipolar disorder, as her experiences with eating disorders and self-harm.
In 2020, she launched the Mental Health Fund, a charity supporting people isolated and affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. It runs a crisis text line for people in the USA, Canada, the UK and The Republic of Ireland to send messages to and receive words of advice and support back.
“Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength,” she told People following the charity’s launch. “Oftentimes, our society tells us that if we ask for help, we are weak. But the strongest thing someone can do is take that first step in getting help, whatever shape or form that is.”
Best known for playing Betty on hit TV Netflix show Riverdale, Lili Reinhart opened up about her history with anxiety and depression in 2019. “We are all human. And we all struggle. Don’t suffer in silence. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help,” she wrote on her Instagram story. “I’m 22. I have anxiety and depression. And today, I started therapy again. And so, the journey of self-love begins for me. Good luck to you on yours.”
That wasn’t the first time Lili had spoken out about her mental health. In 2018, she decided to break from social media, describing it as a “toxic” place where cyberbullying thrives. Lili’s openness regarding the impact that social media can have on our mental health is an essential reminder that we can walk away when things get too much. It’s okay to put our mental health first, no matter the situation.
Lizzo is the queen of self-empowerment, promoting body-positivity and encouraging fans – many of whom are young women – to love themselves and the skin they’re in. She’s been on her own mental health journey, having been open about her experiences with depression, anxiety and body image, as well as how they influence her music.
“I don’t know why, but my anxiety sometimes fuels who I am as a performer and who I am as an artist,” she told British Vogue in 2019. “I don’t know if my body just, like, out of a desperate need to find a place for my anxiety or find a use for it, takes it and puts it there.”
Despite her own struggles, Lizzo and her music continue to inspire young women, reminding us that we’re all beautiful, smart and strong, with the world at our feet. Thanks queen!
Famous for her emotive poetry (her debut milk and honey spent 165 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list), Rupi Kaur has never shied away from discussing her mental health. Many of her poems detail her struggles with depression and anxiety, and in 2018 she took to Twitter to talk frankly about mental illness and her experience with suicidal thoughts:
“Sometimes I myself feel so trapped in the dark it feels like the only way to live is- is to end it all,” she wrote. “I know that’s not the answer. I’m lucky that the other part of my mind, which is fighting the ‘dark’ part, wins, and I find the energy to walk out into the sun and try another day. This morning I feel broken, but I feel hopeful, and I’m sharing these details because I can’t handle knowing some of you feel so alone you want to leave.”
Fans of Rupi’s have spoken openly about how much her poetry has helped them understand their feelings, so they feel less alone during difficult times in life.
Zoë Kravitz, star of Big Little Lies, The Batman and the Fantastic Beasts film franchise, has had a stellar acting career and made waves in the music industry. But having grown up in the limelight – her parents are musician Lenny Kravitz and actor Lisa Bonet – she understood and felt the pressures placed on women from an early age: something she believes contributed to her decade-long battle with anorexia and bulimia.
“I struggled with an eating disorder in high school and into my early 20s,” she told Nylon. “I think it’s really important to talk about body image and the struggles a lot of women have with food – especially in the entertainment industry.”
Around 75% of people living with an eating disorder are women. When more women speak out about their experiences, it helps others with their own recovery, which is why it’s so important – whether we’re in the public eye or not – that we keep talking about our mental health to end the stigma once and for all.
If you’re struggling with your mental health this International Women’s Day, you’re not alone. So, if you can, ‘choose to challenge’ yourself today; asking for mental health support could be the first step on your road to recovery.