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Lady Gaga pens global call for suicide prevention, mental-health support

Lady Gaga and the head of the World Health Organization call for action and funding to fight suicide and help mental illness sufferers.

FILE – In this Sept. 27, 2018, file photo, actress and singer Lady Gaga poses for photographers upon arrival at the premiere of the film "A Star Is Born" in London.
FILE – In this Sept. 27, 2018, file photo, actress and singer Lady Gaga poses for photographers upon arrival at the premiere of the film "A Star Is Born" in London.Read moreVianney Le Caer/Invision/AP, File

Lady Gaga and the World Health Organization's director-general, Tedros Adhanom, have issued a powerful global appeal to increase support and funding for life-saving mental-health services to battle what they call a worldwide emergency.

"Suicide is the most extreme and visible symptom of the larger mental health emergency we are so far failing to adequately address," Lady Gaga and Adhanom wrote in a joint column in the Guardian published Tuesday. "Stigma, fear and lack of understanding compound the suffering of those affected and prevent bold action that is so desperately needed and so long overdue."

Globally, 800,000 people will kill themselves this year, according to the editorial by Lady Gaga, founder of the Born This Way Foundation. "Sometimes they are famous names such as Anthony Bourdain or Kate Spade that make headlines, but they are all sons or daughters, friends or colleagues, valued members of families and communities."

The coauthors state that one in four people will experience a mental-health condition at some point in their lives, and even more will have a loved one affected. Young people are particularly at risk; the editorial states that suicide is the leading cause of death globally for people ages 15 to 29 and that half of all mental illnesses begin by age 14.

Gaga and Adhanom's appeal comes at a time when the World Health Organization is engaged in a campaign to call attention to mental health, especially among the world's young people, and the need for more action and funding.

In addition to calling for greater funding for mental-health support services, Gaga and her coauthor applauded grassroots efforts such as grandmothers offering counseling in Zimbabwe and peer-to-peer education programs in the United Kingdom and Australia.

Locally, at universities such as Penn, Temple, and Drexel, students are trying to help one another through peer counseling and mutual support organizations.

I Care, offered through Penn's Counseling and Psychological Services, has trained move than 2,000 students, faculty, and staff members in helping others in crisis. The program was started after several suicides at Penn in 2013 and 2014.

St. Joseph's University has offered its own suicide-prevention program for about a decade. In the last year, its training has been doubled, reaching 300 campus community members, up from 150 the year before. One of the critical aspects of the training, according to Greg Nicholls, director of the St. Joe's counseling services, is preparing students to ask their peers directly if they are thinking about harming themselves, so they get help.

Drexel, Temple, and Penn State's campuses all have DMAX clubs, student-led groups aimed at fighting stigma and increasing support for people facing mental-health issues. The clubs were born of the efforts of the parents of Dan Maxwell, 18, a student athlete at Radnor High School who took his own life in 2013. Laurie Burstein-Maxwell and Lee Maxwell started the DMAX Foundation to help other young people with mental-health problems get help and not suffer in silence.

Mental-health experts say keeping your distance and avoiding what can be an uncomfortable subject is often the worst thing you can do.

Stacey Cahn, a clinical professor of psychology at Rowan University Wellness Center, said if you're worried about a friend or loved one, especially if you suspect that person may be thinking about suicide, ask about it.

"More often than not, people err in the direction of not asking. That's where the problem is," Cahn said.

Lady Gaga has publicly identified herself as a survivor of mental illness and trauma, crediting the kindness of her family, friends, and doctors with saving her life. The multi-Grammy Award winner and lead actress in the film A Star Is Born has said she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as the result of being raped at age 19 by a man 20 years older.

"The time has come for us all, collectively, to tackle the causes and symptoms of mental illness, and provide care for those who suffer from it," the celebrity and the WHO official wrote. "You don't have to be an international artist or the head of the World Health Organization to make an impact."