Meet Shine’s 2020 Mental Health Stigma Breakers
Grief. Anxiety. Depression. Stress. PTSD.
It’s easy to feel as if we’re alone in the things we struggle with—but if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that that is the farthest thing from the truth.
Between the pandemic, the uprising for racial justice, and civil unrest in nations all over the world—this year has been a test of our mental health.
But it’s also affirmed the impact of being open about it.
In 2020, we witnessed so many people get real about their struggles.
From Meghan Markle to David Chang—folks with major platforms broke down barriers and opened up about their grief, anxiety, depression, diagnoses, and so much more.
And it matters.
In fact, research from Yale shows that when we see people with a platform opening up about their mental health, it can make us more willing to care for our own mental health and feel less alone in doing so.
That level of public disclosure is groundbreaking. Not only does it lead to a much needed destigmatization of mental illnesses—it contributes to our ability to care for ourselves with compassion.
Each story bravely shared by those with a public platform helped countless others to acknowledge their own mental health struggles with empathy and courage.
Because of their bold declarations, we felt a little less alone this year.
We felt galvanized to reflect on our own experiences and motivated to embrace the same level of vulnerability in our own lives.
And we felt empowered to continue the ripple effect that comes with being open and gentle about how we’re caring for ourselves.
That’s why this year, we’re announcing our first-ever list of 2020 Stigma Breakers.
We’re proud to honor and celebrate the following individuals who, in 2020, helped break the stigma that surrounds mental health—in hopes that it can encourage us all to know we’re never alone in what we’re going through.
The former First Lady opened up to the world this year with her new Spotify original podcast, “The Michelle Obama Podcast.” In each episode, Michelle got vulnerable about her experiences, relationships—and her own mental health.
During the second episode, she shared that she was suffering from “low-grade depression” due to effects of the pandemic, the movement for racial justice, and the political landscape.
“I have to say, that waking up to the news, waking up to how this administration has or has not responded, waking up to yet another story of a Black man or a Black person somehow being dehumanized or hurt or killed, or falsely accused of something, it is exhausting,” she shared. “It has led to a weight that I haven’t felt in my life—in, in a while.”
She also shared exactly how she’s coping with those intense emotions: Through a daily routine that includes fresh air, exercise, and quality time with loved ones.
Chrissy Teigen might be best known for her quippy Internet presence, but the model and cookbook author used her platform to share moments of intense grief this year after she experienced a pregnancy loss.
In September, she took to social media to share a moving photo and a message of the pain she experienced. “We are shocked and in the kind of deep pain you only hear about, the kind of pain we’ve never felt before,” she wrote.
A month later, she opened up even more in a self-published essay about the complications that led to the loss—and the emotions that followed. She detailed the grief and mourning she was in the midst of, alongside husband John Legend, and the hope that followed thanks to countless people sharing their own experiences with her.
Are you OK? That’s the question Meghan Markle focused on in a stirring op-ed this year, published in The New York Times.
It was a question thrown at her in an interview in 2019, and her candid response—she wasn’t OK—sparked conversations for weeks after.
This year, through consistent honesty and vulnerability, Meghan has continued that same conversation—sharing with the world her pregnancy loss and the mental toll she’s experienced at the hands of tabloids.
“We have learned that when people ask how any of us are doing, and when they really listen to the answer, with an open heart and mind, the load of grief often becomes lighter—for all of us. In being invited to share our pain, together we take the first steps toward healing,” she wrote.
She’s continued to give others permission to speak their truth by sharing her own.
Issa Rae + Insecure cast: Alexander Hodge, Issa Rae, Kendrick Sampson, Yvonne Orji
Season 4 of HBO’s critically acclaimed show Insecure brought forth the usual beloved drama, but it also featured overarching themes about self-care and mental health that sparked larger conversations across social media.
In this year’s season, Nathan (Kendrick Sampson) comes back into Issa’s (Issa Rae) life after disappearing in Season 3. He gets vulnerable about his disappearance, and shares with Issa that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The two share a moment full of tenderness that shows how powerful sharing your story can be.
And Kendrick, the actor who plays Nathan, shared more about that moment in a stirring essay about his own anxiety, and how the criminal justice system plays a role in criminalizing marginalized people who struggle with their mental health too.
Beyond Nathan’s storyline, Molly (Yvonne Orji) continued therapy and worked through navigating her relationship with others—and herself. While Tiffany (Amanda Seales) navigated postpartum depression, which her friends didn’t notice until it became a crisis.
Offscreen, the Insecure cast has also emphasized the importance of prioritizing mental health, particularly for people of color.
Alexander Hodge (who plays Andrew, Molly’s love interest) has been a vocal mental health advocate, sharing his personal experiences with bipolar disorder and opening up about how he has stayed grounded throughout the chaos of 2020.
“We are only now beginning to give mental illness the respect it deserves. We’ve lost countless people to mental illness,” Alexander told Cools. “...as a person that just wants to please people as well as being bipolar and needing acceptance, it is really difficult to place my self protection over someone else’s approval… But, over the past I would say 18 months, I’ve just practiced and practiced saying no and being honest.”
As we all coped with the mental hurdles that came with 2020, actress Selena Gomez was right there with us, continuing to share her experiences with depression and anxiety and advocating for mental health care access for marginalized communities.
"I've been a champion for mental health for numerous years and talked very openly about my experiences," Selena told People, where she was named one of three People of the Year honorees this year. "I want so much change in that space, and I wanted people of all ages to understand that the mind isn't simple."
The singer is dedicated to making that change happen. She launched a beauty line, Rare Beauty, this year and committed to donating $100 million over the next 10 years towards mental health resources for underserved communities via her Rare Impact Fund.
Taraji P. Henson
As her career has grown, so has actress Taraji P. Henson’s commitment to supporting Black mental health.
In 2018, she launched a nonprofit organization, The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, as a means to financially empower those seeking careers in mental health, offer mental health services, and educate people in an effort to end the stigma around mental health in Black communities.
Throughout this year, she’s continued that work by speaking up about Black mental health at every turn, providing virtual therapy sessions for folks in need, and so much more. “Strength is in vulnerability, strength is in saying I need help. That’s what I want my people, of all people, to understand,” she told The Undefeated, when explaining the importance of providing these accessible resources.
At the end of 2020, she launched a Facebook Watch show Peace of Mind with Taraji, focused on talking about wellness and mental health with celebrities and experts—and we’re looking forward to the breadth of groundbreaking conversations she’ll continue to facilitate in the coming year.
Demi Lovato’s career has been synonymous with vulnerability about mental health, addiction, and the rollercoaster of life. This year was no different.
The singer continued to use her platform to open up about how her anxiety and depression were exacerbated due to the pandemic.
“For so many years, mental illness was seen as shameful,” she wrote in a powerful letter for Vogue. “I certainly felt ashamed; I was made to feel ashamed. This comes from ignorance. People just didn’t understand what it was, people were scared of words such as anxiety and depression.”
Her wish: For mental health stigmatization to transform into accessible care and education. “The more we’re learning about it now, however, the better we’re able to manage it as a public health crisis. Education and the language we use around mental wellness is crucial.”
Jonathan Van Ness
The world fell in love with Jonathan Van Ness on Netflix’s hit series Queer Eye, where so many of us found joy in watching his transformative energy shift countless of lives. And now, between his memoir Over the Top and recent candid interviews, Jonathan has opened up about his own mental health journey and his experience living with HIV.
Part of the reason why: He wants to take ownership of his story as one of healing.
“I don’t want to talk about the trauma. I want to talk about the healing,” he told Self this year. “As a survivor of abuse, I’m not willing to retraumatize myself for someone’s story.”
Jonathan’s also been vocal about the mental health boundaries he needs to set in order to have energy to advocate, because the “vulnerability hangovers” are real.
“I can’t use my platform and lift other people up and educate and amplify and do all the things I want to do to help make things better if I’m so burnt out and under so much pressure that everything’s not coming across,” he explained to Self. “You have to have enough gas in your tank to be able to do the work.”
If you’ve come across a video of Tabitha Brown on social media this year, you know how transformative her soothing voice and words of encouragement can be.
The TikTok star catapulted into fame in 2020 and made a name for herself on the platform after sharing videos of her vegan cooking. But beyond the bacon-actually-made-from-carrots recipes, Tabitha has made videos full of comfort and hope—many of which are filled with comments from teens and adults alike, grateful for her presence and the reminders to prioritize self-care, self-love, and tap into their resilience.
“I had always prayed that if I was able to pull myself out of this dark rut and see light again, then I want to choose to be the light,” Tabitha shared with Health. “That is why I choose to do videos that are light, fun, and loving. I want to feed your soul, not just your stomach. If I can give people a little bit of hope, I am happy.”
Colombian artist J Balvin is a global superstar, but that doesn’t negate his willingness to open up about how anxiety and depression have challenged him.
Over the years, he’s talked about his anxiety on and off stage—and this year, with the COVID-19 pandemic raging on, the reggaeton singer continued to open up about his mental health on social media.
In a series of Instagram stories, he shared: "Like any human being, I've had some challenges. This time it's anxiety and some depression...I don't like acting or faking my happiness or that everything is perfect...I'm like any human being. I'm fragile and vulnerable, possibly more than all of you."
His constant vulnerability—including sharing his experiences seeking professional help to address anxiety and depression—have inspired countless others, including singer Camilla Cabello who shared in Time about the impact his openness has had on her own mental health journey.
Sterling K. Brown
Through his starring role on This Is Us and in his own personal life, actor Sterling K. Brown has become a candid mental health advocate.
On the show, his character Randall is asked to start prioritizing his mental health after struggling with untreated PTSD and anxiety. And once he does: We witness a journey of healing and vulnerability not often portrayed in Hollywood, particularly for Black men.
Sterling himself isn’t ashamed to share that he goes to therapy, and he believes having those conversations on mental health can contribute to breaking a spiral of shame attached to asking for help.
“Many Black men and women in particular have said thank you for demystifying the idea that therapy is something that is an anathema to us, something that our community needs to see,” Sterling shared in an interview with Variety. “Because I think the power of media is, once you see somebody else do it, then it sort of makes it a little bit easier for you to envision yourself taking that step on a personal level.”
This year didn’t go exactly as planned for many of us—especially Simone Biles, who was slated to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics before the games were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, she’s shown her strength exists off the mat too. Simone opened up even more about the depression she’s experienced in her 2020 Vogue cover story—and delved into the aftermath of former Team USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar’s sentencing.
“Most of you know me as a happy, giggly, and energetic girl,” she shared on social media. “But lately I’ve felt a bit broken and the more I try to shut off the voice in my head the louder it screams.”
To Vogue, she detailed the difficulties of speaking up: “For me, it was a weight that I carried so heavily on my chest, so I felt like, if I shared it with people, then it would be a relief for me,” she said. “And I knew that by sharing my story, I would help other survivors feel comfortable and safe in coming forward.”
Over the years, the chef and founder of the celebrated Momofuku empire has opened up about depression, mental helath stigma, and the high cost of care. And this year, David Chang released his memoir Eat A Peach, where he shared even more candidly about his bipolar diagnosis and the suicidal thoughts he was experiencing—both of which were fueled by his workaholism.
“It takes time to view mental illness as something that is not a taboo subject but something that is as commonplace as someone using an inhaler to help breathe better...as something that is different and acceptable,” David shared with NPR this year. “And I think that needs to change.”
Famous for her authenticity and infectious energy, singer Lizzo uncovered another side of herself this year: the one still struggling with her mental health.
Her openness is not only touching because of the raw emotions that accompany them, but also because of her willingness to shake assumptions that fame equates happiness.
“Do the inner work. Do the inner work because no matter where you are, it’s always going to haunt you like a f---ing ghost,” she tearfully shared in one video on TikTok. “And I’m working on it too, but today is just not a good day. I just want everybody to know that it’s OK to not have a good day even when it seems like you should.”
She's also committed to helping others do that inner work. She's used her time in quarantine to create meditations and mantra sessions focused on healing. The sessions are full of compassion and care (and her flute skills), and they've now been viewed by millions of people on Instagram.
On top of handling pandemic-related anxieties and stress, Maren Morris spent 2020 coping with postpartum depression after the birth of her son.
"I'm kind of coming through the tunnel now. I feel back to normal," she told CBS News.
It’s a type of depression that affects up to 15% of new moms—but one that rarely gets discussed. The country singer shared what that depression looked like for her, and how access to therapy helped her navigate the lows of this year and feeling stuck.
"Fortunately, I was able to do phone therapy during the pandemic,” she said. “And (I have) people that love me around me that are like, 'Hey, if you're drowning right now, there's help.'"
“Being depressed is exhausting.”
That’s how basketball champ Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers began an essay he penned this year.
Kevin’s always openly discussed the impacts of his depression and anxiety (including panic attacks during games). And this year, he continued that vulnerability—sharing his experience with depression during quarantine and the suicidal thoughts that he continues to work through with ongoing therapy.
"I think that's been the biggest and most helpful thing for me is exposing [depression and suicidal thoughts], understanding that it is gonna make me vulnerable and maybe put me in a spot where most people it could be tough, but I know that there's a whole group and strength in numbers out there of people who are dealing with it,” he shared on In Depth with Graham Bensinger.
His work to help others prioritize their emotional wellbeing through The Kevin Love Fund has continued to break the mental health stigma for people in sports and beyond.
Awkwafina’s 2020 included a mental health awakening as a result of being quarantined at home during the pandemic.
"You're forced to look at yourself, what really matters, who are the people that matter in your life," the actress shared in an interview with Shape. "...what are the things that I've always wanted to do but maybe I was too scared or wasn't ready but now I am?"
She's used the time to figure out what it looks like to prioritize her emotional wellbeing. For her: It means opening up, tuning into her routines, and showing herself compassion when she’s not OK.
"I would often feel very selfish when I felt down or depressed. I would feel like, first of all, I shouldn’t be feeling down or depressed. I’m fine," she told Shape. "But also knowing that chances are other people are going through these problems too, that everyone feels down in a way that they can't really put their finger on it, helped me a lot. Just knowing that we're not really in this alone. We're all kind of in it."
At the tail end of this year, Laverne Cox opened up about a transphobic attack she experienced while hiking with a friend.
In sharing what happened and how she handled the aftermath of the horrific situation, Laverne started a conversation on social media about physical and emotional safety for trans people specifically.
It’s a necessary conversation: In 2020, at least 37 trans people were victims of fatal violence, with Black transgender women disproportionately impacted. It’s the highest number of victims the Human Rights Campaign has recorded in any year.
Laverne continues to use her platform to speak up about her journey dealing with anxiety and navigating trauma with self-compassion.
"When these things happen, it’s not your fault,” Laverne shared on social media following the attack. “It’s not your fault that people are not cool with you existing in the world.”
Hayley Kiyoko is no stranger to talking about mental health. The actress and singer has always been vocal about caring for her emotional wellbeing and managing depression. And she’s fostered partnerships (like with Ad Council on Suicide Prevention Day) to strengthen her advocacy.
This year, amidst a traumatic time, she continued to extend that support on social media by sharing her own emotional journey coping with the pandemic and words of encouragement for others struggling.
“I had a really productive talk with my therapist today,” she wrote on Instagram in March. “I’ve been struggling just like many of you over trying to comprehend our new reality...It’s okay to feel uncomfortable, upset, lost, frustrated, we have to go through the grieving process. But once we do, we will see the beauty of now. And we will triumph.”
It seemed at every turn of 2020, Zendaya broke the Internet—and for good reasons. She made history this year as the youngest woman to win an Emmy for best lead actress in a drama for her portrayal of Rue in Euphoria.
And it's so deserved: Her honest and raw portrayal of a young woman of color struggling with addiction and mental health—and opening up about needing help—is a necessary story we rarely get to see.
Zendaya also doesn't shy away from talking about her own mental health challenges. She's struggled with anxiety from a young age, and this year she shared more about how she prioritizes her mental wellness.
“I think a lot of it stems from the pressure I put on myself, wanting to do my best and not make a mistake,” she shared with InStyle this year. “I definitely don't have it under control yet. I do find that talking about it is helpful, and that can often mean calling my mom in the middle of the night.”
If you’re struggling with your mental health, know that seeking help is a strength—not a weakness. If you or someone you care about needs help, call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357)—it's free, confidential, and available at all hours.
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