Stefani Germanotta, better known as Lady Gaga, is a household name in the United States and around the world. After her rise to popularity in 2008 with her smash hit “Poker Face,” Lady Gaga has released multiple platinum records, acted in movies, performed at awards shows and, overall, been a true pop culture force over the last decade.
However, those who are familiar with Lady Gaga’s story are also familiar with her mental health challenges and her strong advocacy for comprehensive mental health care reform. In 2018, Lady Gaga gave a rousing speech at the SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s Patron of the Artists Awards presentation, speaking about the power of kindness and the importance of taking action. Through her Born This Way Foundation, she works to shed light on toxic behavior patterns and improve conditions and treatment options for those in need of help.
Lady Gaga: The Early Days
Stefani Germanotta was born in 1986 in New York City and grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, living with her lower-income parents. She was encouraged by her family to participate in music from an early age; she started playing piano at age 4 and began participating in musical theater productions and open mic nights in her teens.
When she was 17, she was admitted into Collaborative Arts Project 21, a music program operated through New York University’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts. She lived in the dorms at NYU and completed classes for two years until dropping out toward the end of her sophomore year to attempt to further her music career.
In the mid-2000s, she began playing clubs in New York City, becoming a staple on the Lower East Side. To increase her chances of making it big, she began to tweak her musical style, taking on a pop and glam rock sound to better appeal to record producers. Eventually, she struck a deal with Sony and began producing her own music while also writing songs for artists like Britney Spears and Fergie. Shortly after, she started a joint partnership with production company KonLive and began work on her first album, The Fame. Two singles from The Fame received significant airplay — Poker Face and Just Dance — and from there, Lady Gaga’s fame began to grow.
Early in her career, Lady Gaga was best known for her outlandish outfits and actions, including famously wearing a dress made of raw meat to a 2010 award show. As she has become more respected as an artist, her use of theatrics to draw attention has slowed, although much of her professional demeanor is still predicated on eccentricity. Those close to her maintain that her moniker is a derivative of the Queen song Radio Ga Ga, although other origin rumors have circulated since her rise to popularity.
Celebrity and Mental Health
Lady Gaga has been very open about her struggles with mental health. In 2014, she spoke out about being raped at age 19 and the subsequent mental health challenges she experienced as a result, including post-traumatic stress disorder. She also maintains that her mental struggles manifested into physical symptoms, like chronic pain and panic attacks. She has since sought treatment for the ramifications of her sexual assault as well as the pressures she has experienced over the course of her career and speaks very highly of the positive effects of getting treatment.
In October 2018, after her moving speech to the SAG-AFTRA Foundation, Lady Gaga went on to write a deeply emotional op-ed in The Guardian detailing the propensity for suicide in those who experience mental illness and how important proper care can be to silencing these kinds of dangerous thoughts. In her opinion, piece, she points out that suicide is the leading cause of death for those between the ages of 15 to 29, and that half of all individuals with mental illness show symptoms before age 14. Despite these realities, little is being done to provide support for teens and young adults facing mental health struggles and suicidal ideations. This cause means a lot to her; Lady Gaga has spoken publicly about her own thoughts of suicide and how hard she had to work to find the help that made a difference.
The Born This Way Foundation
The Born This Way Foundation was founded in 2011 by Lady Gaga and her mother and is named after her hit song of the same title. Kindness is at the heart of the foundation’s mission, which strives to inspire youth, reduce bullying and create kinder, happier communities. The organization has seen support from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra and received funding from department store Barney’s New York.
The foundation is active in many areas of mental health care and awareness, including working to bring the teen Mental Health First Aid program to the United States and encouraging the Channel Kindness Challenge. The foundation also handles research into mental health in the United States and what can be done to better treatment programs.
Organizations like The Born This Way Foundation are extremely important in promoting the critical nature of mental health resources and normalizing the process of mental health care. When celebrities like Lady Gaga speak out about struggles and make strides in the community, those who feel as though they are alone or who believe they have no options can see that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Learn more about the Born This Way Foundation.
Mental Health and A Star is Born
In 2018, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga starred in A Star Is Born, a remake of a 1937 movie of the same name. A film that focuses heavily on substance abuse and mental health in the music industry with a storyline that finally culminates in a terrible reality for many who live with mental illness, A Star Is Born was lauded for its emphasis on the harsh reality of untreated disorders. Throughout the movie, viewers explore Cooper’s character’s declining mental health and the increasing strain it puts on his relationship with Lady Gaga’s character as he faces alcoholism and prescription abuse. With references to alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, and suicide, it lets viewers witness the importance of getting help in a raw, gripping way — and the dangerous ramifications that can occur when help isn’t available.
Mental health still carries a strong stigma in the United States, and many people find themselves afraid to speak up and seek treatment. When celebrities like Lady Gaga come forward about their own problems and the work they are doing to find solutions, those who were previously afraid to get help can feel better about taking steps in the right direction.