Powerful Women in History & Their Mental Health

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These amazing women are proof that mental illness does not determine your success.

Marilyn Monroe. Princess Diana. Nina Simone. When we think of these women, we think of their larger-than-life personalities and careers. They are renowned for their incredible talents, awards, humanitarian work, and countless other achievements. While the thought of their mental health doesn’t generally cross our minds, these individuals were only human and they each experienced their own struggles that many of us also face. In fact, many of the aspirational figures we look up to have coped with mental illnesses, an often ignored fact that subsides in the wake of celebrity fame and success.

The value of mental health has recently gained heightened media attention and is integral to our overall conversation about women’s health. In a given year, nearly one in five people experience mental illness, and women are 40% more likely to develop major depression than men. This Women’s History Month, as we reflect on the amazing women who paved the way and expanded opportunity for our generation, let’s celebrate the remarkable women who worked through their mental health during times when it wasn’t a trending hashtag.

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe was a global superstar famous for her many talents, only one of which included being a gorgeous actress. She was also acclaimed for modeling and singing and was widely heralded as a beauty icon throughout the 1940s, 50s, and still today. What many people don’t know about Monroe is that for years, she struggled with her own mental illness and with that of others in her family. Underneath the glam and fame, Monroe developed a drug addiction which eventually launched her into a deep depression. She later lost her life due to a drug overdose.

Diana, Princess of Wales

Princess Diana, also known as the People’s Princess, was idolized for her grace, fashion sense and charity work. When someone mentions her name today, people always have good things to say about her impressive connection with the world outside of her royal life. But royal life had its challenges; Diana struggled with bulimia, even during her pregnancies, and serious depression that brought about self-harm.

Nina Simone

Nina Simone, a famous singer and civil rights activist in the 1950s and 60s, paved the way for African American women to stand out in the arts. From being born into a poor family to enrolling in Julliard to fulfill her dream, Simone became a role model for women and an enviable success story. Unknown to many until after her death in 2003, Simone struggled with bipolar disorder and manic depression.

Imagine existing in the spotlight and facing these struggles with the world watching, waiting for you to fall. Lady Gaga has been open about her experience with anxiety and depression. Demi Lovato endured a life-threatening drug overdose in 2018 that was immediately sensationalized by the media. Ariana Grande developed PTSD after the suicide bombing at her concert in Manchester, England in 2017. Grande has also spoken about her ongoing struggles with anxiety.

As someone who struggles with mental illness myself, I know how difficult it can be to be taken seriously as a woman. We often hear dismissive phrases such as “stop being so dramatic,” “you’re overreacting, or “don’t be so emotional.” The aforementioned women are idols to many of us, the women we strive to be more like. Knowing that they, too, have suffered while achieving great success can bring a sense of comfort and relatability to all of us battling to maintain our own mental wellness.

Although society today seems to be more understanding when it comes to mental illness, there are still many stigmas women especially need to fight against, considering one in four women will require treatment for depression as opposed to one in ten men.

While famous women aren’t immune to mental illness, they radiate incredible strength that everyone can learn from. This strength also comes in the form of being open about mental illness and seeking the help and support one needs. In honor of this Women’s History Month, take a minute to thank the strong women in YOUR life. You never know who might be struggling and your words might provide comfort and even more strength than they already have.

Header image illustrated by Leonor Carvalho

If you or someone you know is seeking mental health support, know that first of all, you/they 100% deserve it. For education and information, the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website is a phenomenal resource. You can also text NAMI to 741741 for 24/7 support or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264) to talk to someone Monday through Friday, 10 am–6 pm, EST. For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.

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