How Selena Gomez Became the Mental Health Champion We All Needed

Selena Gomez's raw candor about tending to her own mental health has provided inspiration and comfort to countless people—and that's definitely something to celebrate.

By Natalie Finn Jul 22, 2023 1:00 PMTags
Watch: Selena Gomez Shares Self-Love Message on International Women's Day

Selena Gomez is only 31, but she's been an important voice in the expanding arena of mental health awareness for years.

And suffice it to say, the star of My Mind & Me is one of the reasons why the public discourse about getting help, accepting yourself and taking time to heal is more robust than ever.

In fact, last year, Gomez was at the White House meeting with ambassadors and activists, bringing the signature candor about her own experiences—including being diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her 20s—that has helped take this historically stigmatized topic into the light and, perhaps most importantly, remind those who are struggling that they are not alone.

"I felt like once I found out what was going on mentally, I found that there was more freedom for me to be okay with what I had because I was learning about it," the Only Murders in the Building actress said at Mental Health Youth Action Forum in May 2022. "Bringing attention to mental health through media or just by talking about your journeys can help."

Selena Gomez Through the Years

In fact, her promise to herself that sharing her story was going to help others became a mantra as she was dealing with major health crises in the past, including her 2014 lupus diagnosis and subsequent kidney transplant in 2017.

That was, as she put it, "really what kept me going."

Emma McIntyre/FilmMagic

And if you take a closer look at her business ventures, you'll see that this mission is woven throughout, whether you're one of the 426 million Instagram followers or if you're picking up a vegan, cruelty-free lipstick from Rare Beauty by Selena Gomez—where a percent of sales are earmarked for mental health care resources and education through her Rare Impact Fund.

"Mental health is very personal for me," Gomez told the audience at the White House, "and I hope that by using my platform to share my own story and working with incredible people like all of you, I can help others feel less alone and find the help they need, which is honestly all I want."

And, in honor of her birthday July 22, we're using our platform to celebrate Gomez and her refreshingly unafraid vulnerability. 

Keep reading to find out what she's had to say:

"The Best Thing I've Done"

After years of being bogged down by an emotionally detrimental relationship, anxiety heightened by social media scrutiny and the various other ways in which fame took its toll on her sense of self, Selena Gomez finally said enough and checked into a Tennessee treatment facility in the fall of 2016 to start piecing herself back together.

"You have no idea how incredible it felt to just be with six girls, real people who couldn't give two s--ts about who I was, who were fighting for their lives," she reflected to Vogue in 2017. "It was one of the hardest things I've done, but it was the best thing I've done."

"I Knew What My Heart Was Saying"

"I was in the countryside and never did my hair," the Rare Beauty founder said in the September 2017 issue of InStyle about her 90 days in treatment. "I took part in equine therapy, which is so beautiful. And it was hard, obviously. But I knew what my heart was saying, and I thought, 'OK, I think this has helped me become stronger for other people."

"You Do Not Have to Stay Broken"

While she was open about her reasons for needing a break as soon as her Revival World Tour wrapped in the summer of 2016, it was her speech at the 2016 American Music Awards that November that heralded a new Selena—or at least a Selena who was never again going to pretend that everything was fine when it wasn't.

"In 2014, this stage was actually the first time that I was authentically 100 percent honest with all of you," she said, referring to her emotional performance. "I think it's safe to say most of you know my life whether I liked it or not. And I had to stop. Because I had everything, and I was absolutely broken inside. I kept it all together enough to where I would never let you down, but I kept it too much together to where I let myself down."

"I don't want to see your bodies on Instagram," she continued, pointing to her heart. "I want to see what's in here. I'm not trying to get validation, nor do I need it anymore. All I can say is I'm so grateful that I have the opportunity to be able to share what I love every day with people that I love. I have to say thank you so much to my fans, because you guys are so damn loyal, and I don't know what I did to deserve you. But if you are broken, you do not have to stay broken. That's one thing you should know about me: I care about people. And this is for you."

"It Doesn't Work That Way"

"Tours are a really lonely place for me," she told Vogue in 2017. "My self-esteem was shot. I was depressed, anxious. I started to have panic attacks right before getting onstage, or right after leaving the stage. Basically I felt I wasn't good enough, wasn't capable. I felt I wasn't giving my fans anything, and they could see it—which, I think, was a complete distortion."

"I was so used to performing for kids," she continued. "At concerts I used to make the entire crowd raise up their pinkies and make a pinky promise never to allow anybody to make them feel that they weren't good enough. Suddenly I have kids smoking and drinking at my shows, people in their 20s, 30s, and I'm looking into their eyes, and I don't know what to say. I couldn't say, 'Everybody, let's pinky-promise that you're beautiful!' It doesn't work that way, and I know it because I'm dealing with the same s--t they're dealing with. What I wanted to say is that life is so stressful, and I get the desire to just escape it. But I wasn't figuring my own stuff out, so I felt I had no wisdom to share. And so maybe I thought everybody out there was thinking, This is a waste of time."

"I Wish More People Would Talk About Therapy"

"DBT has completely changed my life," she told Vogue, referring to Dialectical Behavior Therapy, a method originally developed for people with borderline personality disorder but which has since been found effective in treating a wider range of mood disorders and and detrimental behavioral patterns. "I wish more people would talk about therapy. We girls, we're taught to be almost too resilient, to be strong and sexy and cool and laid-back, the girl who's down. We also need to feel allowed to fall apart."

"I Had to Lose a Lot of People in My Life"

"If you're around people who think that [tending to one's mental health] is dumb, that think it's ridiculous—'You're crazy! You're fine!'—but you don't feel that way, then maybe it's time to reevaluate that," she observed to Business of Fashion in September 2017. "It's a lonely journey to really figure out where all this stuff is coming from. And to detach from it. It becomes an addiction, it becomes a habit, retraining your mind to not go to these negative places when you say something wrong, do something wrong, when you wear a certain thing or represent a certain culture. But it is lonely, I had to lose a lot of people in my life to get there."

"I Have to Take Care of Myself and Not Feel Guilty About It"

"Balance the power of saying no and self-care," the "Lose You to Love Me" singer also told Business of Fashion. "I have to take care of myself and not feel guilty about it. I will say no when I need to say no, and I will make sure that I will not overdo everything because I feel like, if I don't accept everything that's happening, then maybe it seems like I'm ungrateful, or I'm not doing enough. I just have to take care of myself. Therapy, faith, hard work, kindness. That's it."

"You Want Someone to Add to Your Life"

Of realizing that her relationship with herself should be No. 1, the 31-year-old told InStyle, "I don't depend on one area of my life to make me happy. It's really important for me to love and nourish my friends and family and to make sure that I never get influenced by a guy. I've wanted to be in a strong headspace for years, and I really wasn't. Before, I was so young and easily influenced, and I'd feel insecure. You want someone to add to your life, not to complete you, if that makes sense."

"I'm Going Back to Simplicity"

"I think everything in my life is being majorly downsized, in a very good way," she told Elle toward the end of the summer in 2018. "I'm going back to simplicity. That's always who I've been. It's not me saying, 'I feel the best I've ever felt.' It's me saying, 'I'm exactly where I am. And I'm so happy I'm in this place.' It's a lot of self-discovery. From 20 to 26? Oh my gosh. I feel like a totally different person."

"Equal Parts Terrified and Relieved"

Selena has also let it be known that the road to feeling better can be long and full of twists.

In 2018, "I was suffering mentally and emotionally and I wasn't able to stay all kept up and together," she said while accepting the McLean Award, given to those who have furthered the public's understanding of psychiatric illness and mental health, at the Massachusetts hospital's annual gala in September 2019. "I wasn't able to keep a smile or to keep things looking normal. It felt like all of my pain and my anxiety washed over me all at once and it was one of the scariest moments of my life."

"I sought support and the doctors were able to give me a clear diagnosis," she continued. "The moment I received that information, I actually felt equal parts of terrified and relieved. Terrified, obviously, because that veil was lifted, but relieved that I had the knowledge of why I had suffered for so many years with depression and anxiety."

Noting how grateful she was for the support system, she added, "Although this does not mean that it has all gone away, I can say that after a year of a lot of intense work, that I am happier, I am healthier and I'm in control of my emotions and thoughts more than I've ever been."

"My Lows Would Take Me Out for Weeks"

"I had low self-esteem, and that's something I work on continuously," Selena told the Wall Street Journal Magazine for a story published in January 2020. "But I feel so empowered because I've gained so much knowledge about what was going on mentally. My highs were really high, and my lows would take me out for weeks at a time."

And the more you know...

"I found out I do suffer from mental health issues," she continued. "And, honestly, that was such a relief. I realized that there was a way to get help and to find people that you trust. I got on the right medication, and my life has been completely changed."

"It Took the Fear Away"

Selena first shared in April 2020 while on Miley Cyrus' "Bright Minded: Live" Instagram series that she'd been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

"Recently, I went to one of the best mental hospitals," she said, referring to McLean, "and I discussed that, after years of going through a lot of different things, I realized that I was bipolar and so, when I go to know more information, it actually helps me. It doesn't scare me once I know it and I think people get scared of that...I wanted to know everything about it and it took the fear away."

"I Want to Challenge Other Businesses and Individuals to Make a Difference"

"I want to ensure that everyone—no matter their age, their race, religion, sexual orientation—has access for services that support their mental health," Selena said in May 2022, at the White House during the Mental Health Youth Action Forum hosted by MTV Networks. "And I want to challenge other businesses and individuals to make a difference in the world by taking action to de-stigmatize mental health. We need as much help as we can possibly get developing resources and services and increasing access to those services for young people."

A version of this story was first published on Friday, July 22, 2022 at 4 a.m. PT.

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