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Can Megan Thee Stallion and other celebrities help fans’ mental health? Experts weigh in

By Kristen Rogers, CNN

The influence of celebrities on culture is undeniable, but would you trust a pop star to help give you advice on mental health?

The latest celebrity venture in the mental health field comes from rapper Megan Thee Stallion with Bad B*tches Have Bad Days Too, a free resource hub of lifelines, text lines and therapist directories. Colombian singer J Balvin’s Oye is a creative wellness app available in English and Spanish. (Monthlong free trials are available before October 31; afterward it’s $4.99 per month.) There’s also Selena Gomez’s Wondermind, a free mental health platform focusing on educational resources and ending the stigma around mental illnesses.

Other celebrities — including Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato, Michael Phelps and Harry Styles — have partnered with mental health apps such as BetterHelp, Talkspace or Calm.

“It does seem like it’s a trend, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing,” said Dr. Amanda J. Calhoun, a Yale University psychiatry resident in the Albert J. Solnit Integrated Adult/Child Psychiatry program. “There have always been celebrities and public figures that have endorsed mental health efforts — I mean, even back to Princess Diana, and that was in the ’90s. She ... shared that she had bulimia. And they even coined it ‘the Diana effect,’ because people were going on and seeking help for eating disorders after that.

“There’s (now) more a space and positive view on mental health that more and more celebrities are sort of able to come forward about it,” she added.

Celebrities’ mental health advocacy is powerful for destigmatizing the issue, Calhoun said — one factor keeping some people from seeking the help they need.

Nearly 1 billion people worldwide experience a mental disorder, but only a fraction receive the treatment they need, according to the World Health Organization, the health agency of the United Nations.

“After the pandemic, global youth — really, everyone — is extremely burnt-out. Anxiety, depression, and feelings of being lost in life are very common now,” J Balvin said in a news release.

“I myself have experienced them, and I’ve learned that through meditation, movement, and connection, it is possible to feel better and become creative again. OYE is an app that elevates people’s well-being, allowing them to be present, tap into their emotional and mental superpowers, and follow their light.”

Here’s what experts think of celebrities’ mental health services, and a list of other resources you can take advantage of.

What the experts think

Celebrities’ use of their platforms to advocate for mental health is generally positive, said Dr. Breigh Jones-Coplin, a clinical assistant professor of clinical psychology at the University of Denver.

“They have a reach that obviously a lot of the mental health professionals in the field don’t have,” she added. “Of course, that comes with a lot of pros and cons. Having the reach and the influence is one (pro), but also making sure you use that power for good to get across accurate and helpful information.”

Jones-Coplin has used some of the resources on Megan Thee Stallion’s site with her clients and in her teaching. “I think they’re very credible,” she said.

And everyone on Wondermind’s advisory committee is a credentialed mental health professional.

Lack of accessibility and knowledge are other barriers to getting help for mental issues, Jones-Coplin said. “People just don’t know where to start … which is what makes these platforms really useful.”

The barriers are exacerbated for people of color, who were 28% to 60% less likely to receive mental health treatment than White people in 2020, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Megan Thee Stallion’s and J Balvin’s platforms seek to address this problem. In addition to general mental health and crisis resources, the former’s site lists therapist directories and lifelines geared toward people of different races or ethnicities, or gender or sexual identities — such as Therapy for Black Men, the StrongHearts Native Helpline and the Trans Lifeline.

“As a Black woman, I represent less than 2% of psychiatrists (in the US),” Calhoun said. “There is a lot of power in having a mental health professional who looks like you and who not only has similar lived experience. … But also, as a Black woman and as a psychiatrist, I also spend a lot of time educating myself on things that are not taught in my standard psychiatric education.”

Calhoun has supplemented her standard education by studying the effects of racism and how psychiatry doesn’t always address the needs of Black people, she said.

Oye’s features include an emotional check-in tool to help users name their feelings and videos for processing emotions through creativity. Gomez’s Wondermind is similar, allowing visitors to navigate content by using the “filter by feels” tool.

“Being able to name how you feel actually can have a big impact on your actions,” Calhoun said. “People are able to have the insight to say, ‘Oh, my gosh, the reason why I’m irritable with people around me is actually because I have low self-esteem, or actually because I’m feeling sad and I don’t know what to do with those emotions.'”

Despite these platform’s potential benefits, Jones-Coplin and Calhoun urge caution when choosing a primary source for mental health treatment.

“It shouldn’t replace actually being able to talk to a mental health professional and seeking mental health services,” Calhoun said. “But I do think it sounds like it would be a great supplement and a great resource also for maybe family members, friends and people who just want to learn about mental health.”

Other accessible resources

Government and nonprofit organizations in the United States and the United Kingdom have multiple resources for mental health support, such as specialized helplines and treatment locators.

If you’re facing insurance or financial barriers, several organizations have people like you in mind — including Mental Health America.

If you think you or someone you know is at risk for suicide, trained counselors with the 24/7 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline could help. Call 988 or 800-273-8255 (TALK). The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide provide contact information for crisis centers around the world.

If you think you or someone you know is dealing with an eating disorder, ANAD, or the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, runs a helpline at 888-375-7767 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET and provides links to support groups and treatment providers.

The National Eating Disorder Association has a confidential, toll-free helpline at 800-931-2237 as well as an online click-to-chat service. For 24/7 crisis support, text “NEDA” to 741741. The organization also has a list of free or low-cost resources.

Eating disorder helplines for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are open 9 a.m. to midnight weekdays and 4 p.m. to midnight weekends and public holidays, every day of the year.

Australia’s Butterfly Foundation runs a call center (at 1800-33-4673) and online chat from 8 a.m. to midnight Australian Eastern Time every day.

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