She and Oprah Winfrey had a candid conversation about mental health.

By Arielle Tschinkel
November 06, 2019
Singer and actress Lady Gaga attends a photocall for the film "A Star is Born" presented out of competition on August 31, 2018 during the 75th Venice Film Festival at Venice Lido
Credit: FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images

Lady Gaga has been an advocate for mental health awareness for years. Not only has she been open about her own experiences with mental illness, but she also co-founded the Born This Way Foundation with her mom, Cynthia Germanotta, to help support the mental and emotional wellness of young people. Gaga even penned a powerful op-ed on suicide for the World Health Organization last year to shed light on the global mental health crisis.

Now, in a new interview with Oprah Winfrey for Elle, Gaga talked about her history with self-harm—something she previously hasn't "opened up [about] very much," she said.

"I was a cutter for a long time," Gaga told Winfrey. (Related: Celebrities Share How Past Traumas Made Them Stronger)

Self-harm, also referred to as non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI), is a clinical condition in which someone deliberately physically injures themselves as a way to "cope with distressing negative affective states," including anger, depression, and other psychological conditions, according to research published in the journal Psychiatry.

Anyone can struggle with self-harm. But young people are most at risk for developing these behaviors due to feelings of shame and heightened anxiety surrounding issues like body image, sexuality, and pressure to fit in with others, according to Mental Health America. "Teens may resort to cutting and other forms of self-injury in order to relieve these negative feelings," per the organization. (Related: This Photographer Is Destigmatizing Scars By Sharing the Stories Behind Them)

The first step in getting help for self-harm is to talk to a trusted adult, friend, or medical professional who's familiar with the subject (a psychiatrist is ideal), according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. In Gaga's case, she said she was able to stop self-harming with the help of dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). DBT is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that was originally developed to treat issues like chronic suicidal ideation and borderline personality disorder, according to the University of Washington's Behavioral Research and Therapy Clinics (BRTC). However, it's now considered a "gold standard" psychological treatment for a wider range of conditions, including depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and more, per the BRTC.

DBT typically involves a combination of techniques that helps both the patient and the therapist better understand what causes and maintains problematic behaviors (such as self-harm), according to research published in the International Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy. The goal is to validate the person's emotions, help regulate those feelings, increase mindfulness, and offer healthier behaviors and thought patterns.

"When I realized [I could tell] someone, 'Hey, I am having an urge to hurt myself,' that defused it," Gaga shared of her experience with DBT. "I then had someone next to me saying, 'You don't have to show me. Just tell me: What are you feeling right now?' And then I could just tell my story." (Related: Lady Gaga Used Her Grammys Acceptance Speech to Talk About Mental Health)

Gaga's goal in sharing these personal details of her past is to help others feel seen in their own suffering, she told Winfrey in their Elle interview. "I recognized very early on [in my career] that my impact was to help liberate people through kindness," said Gaga. "I mean, I think it's the most powerful thing in the world, particularly in the space of mental illness."

If you're struggling with thoughts of suicide or have felt deeply distressed for a period of time, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with someone who will provide free and confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


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