Another reason to love Lady Gaga!
In June of 2019, it was announced that Lady Gaga's Born This Way Foundation and the National Council for Behavioral Health are expanding the teen Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA) program this fall to 20 additional high schools. This unique peer-to-peer pilot program recently launched in eight U.S. high schools. The goal of the curriculum is to empower young people to support each other in times of mental health crisis.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) recently reported the following statistics regarding mental health:
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death in people ages 10-34
- 70.4 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system have a diagnosed mental illness
- 1 in 6 U.S. youth age 6-17 experience serious mental illness each year
- The average delay between the onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is 11 years
As teen suicide rates continue to climb, the Grammy award-winning singer has become a fierce advocate for mental health. She has often shared her struggles with mental health and substance abuse, including her admission that her PTSD diagnosis was the catalyst for her song, Million Reasons.
“My dream is that this program happens in every school. I’m just so proud of all of you,” said Lady Gaga when she spoke with some of the very first students to participate in the tMHFA program earlier this year. The celebration included an invitation for the students to appear on stage with her at one of her Las Vegas residency shows.
Hope for the Future
Lady Gaga uses her celebrity in a powerful way, and her willingness to speak out with such personal vulnerability is admirable. When teens see a superstar admit personal struggles that mirror their own, it has a dynamic impact and allows them to lower their guard and reach out for help. Knowing she has walked in their shoes and experienced depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and bullying and seeing her triumph on the other side gives them hope for their battles. They no longer feel alone and helpless.
Gaga's hands-on approach and personal involvement are among the reasons the program has already been so successful. In an interview with Oprah, Gaga revealed why authenticity is so important to her when reaching out to others. Earlier in Gaga's career, her mother had concerns about her oversharing personal information. She now accepts that this is the essence of her daughter, a down-to-earth and genuinely caring person. This makes Lady Gaga the perfect spokesperson for this program.
Betsy Schwartz, vice president for public education and strategic initiatives at the National Council for Behavioral Health, oversees the tMHFA program. “The curricula has an action plan that’s very concrete that teaches the teens five things to remember,” she said.
The Mental Health First Aid Action Plan
Students and teachers who enroll in the program are taught how to help someone experiencing a mental health or substance abuse crisis. The action plan, by its very nature, seeks to normalize responding to a mental health crisis the same as someone would call 911 or initiate CPR to respond to a physical crisis. Covered topics include depression and mood disorders, anxiety disorders, trauma, psychosis, and substance use disorders.
Participants also learn how to apply the Mental Health First Aid action plan in different crises including panic attacks, suicidal thoughts or behaviors, acute psychosis (hallucinations or delusions) reaction to a traumatic event, and overdose or withdrawal from drugs and/or alcohol.
The five steps of the action plan are:
1. Assess for risk of suicide or harm
2. Listen nonjudgmentally
3. Give reassurance and information
4. Encourage appropriate professional help
5. Encourage self-help and other support strategies
After completing the course, students are well-equipped with a strong understanding of what mental health crisis looks like, individual ways it may present itself, and how to guide their friend in seeking help without fearing their privacy will be compromised. Students also understand the important role they play in their community to educate others and help dispel the stigma of mental illness.
“With teen Mental Health First Aid, we like to say, 'it’s okay to not be okay',” said Lady Gaga. “Sometimes when life gives you a million reasons to not want to stay, you need just one person that looks at you, listens to you, helps you get help and validates how you feel.”