By Malavika Eby
On this momentous occasion, otherwise known as Selena Gomez’s birthday, I’m thrilled to take the time to appreciate her work outside the music industry—namely in advocating for nationwide mental health education and awareness.
Not only has she pledged to raise $100 million dollars for mental health education through her cosmetics company, Rare Beauty, but she also accepted the 2019 McLean Award from McLean Hospital for her work to advance the public’s understanding of mental health. Selena herself deals with anxiety, bipolar disorder, and depression. On top of that, she battles with lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease.
I admire Selena Gomez for many reasons, but the primary one remains how she translates her social-emotional struggles into thoughtful and impactful work.
Now, I won’t romanticize mental health struggles and tell you that every cloud has its silver lining, and that we must take advantage of the darker times to create something beyond ourselves, something beautiful that people everywhere can connect with. I mean, sure, that sounds amazing, but if you are going through an episode of sadness, exhaustion, and/or anxiety, just making it out of bed or brushing your hair is an achievement, and we can’t dismiss that.
I don’t see Selena’s work in advocacy and philanthropy as some shining example of what each of us must do when facing mental struggles–rather, I translate her journey as something we can learn from, with constructive approaches to add to our mental toolbox to use when needed.
When she launched Mental Health 101 in April 2021, a campaign to bring mental health education to schools, Selena wrote to the public, “This campaign is so close to my heart because of my own struggles with mental health. I know firsthand (sic) how scary and lonely it can feel to face anxiety and depression by yourself at a young age. If I had learned about my mental health earlier on—been taught about my condition in school the way I was taught about other subjects—my journey could have looked very different.”
I have struggled with my mental health since I was about ten years old, which weighed me down and led me far away from enjoying childhood experiences that weren’t meant to be stressful or lonely. While I could attribute much of my difficulties to the Bay Area’s cutthroat academic environment or typical middle school mean girls, the truth is that my lack of knowledge about healthy emotional regulation skills was really at fault here, of course, caused by a lack of mental health education in schools as Selena pointed out. It was this revelation that inspired me to write about my growing understanding of healthy self-talk and self-compassion skills in my book, “The Gift That Keeps on Giving,” which I published last October for middle and high-schoolers who could resonate with my younger self.
While it may seem daunting, you could find tackling a societal problem that has personally inflicted you to be deeply fulfilling like I did. If Selena’s motivations are anything like mine as she launches each of these incredible projects, her work is her way to create meaning within her own life, an anchor that likely keeps her tethered to something beautiful and worthwhile regardless of professional and personal setbacks.
During one of my watercolor lessons just a month ago, one of the women I paint with made a remark that stayed with me: “I love being an artist because there’s always something to look forward to.” I knew exactly what she meant. Our work, whether in art, research, technology, writing or communications, helps build ourselves a niche—a place where we belong, a purpose for us to fill, and a reason for us to feel important and value our time on Earth. Thus, to translate something so heavy and draining such as our mental health issues into something so fundamentally purpose-giving can make a true difference in the way we perceive our lives.
However, to conclude, I don’t believe that there is any inherent difference between those who channel their troubles into their life’s work, and those who choose not to do so or simply cannot. While it may feel like it at times, we are not lazy or unproductive if we need to take time for ourselves and focus on getting the “little things” in order, like our sleep or hygiene habits, rather than completing passion projects like the ones I’ve written about.
What I do believe is that we’re all human and inherently equal as much as we’re all different and cope with emotions differently. So, my suggestion is to take this approach as you will! No one understands your needs better than you do.
So today, to commemorate Selena Gomez’s birthday, let’s take this time to remind ourselves of a few key notes related to mental health that she would hold close to her heart: Regardless of how you choose to face your mental setbacks, you are worthy of love and admiration. Every single step you have taken today toward your well-being is important. You matter, and your mental health matters. Always.
Works Cited: Moumita Chakraborty. “Selena Gomez Launches ‘Mental Health 101’ Initiative to Advocate Mental Health.” Mashable ME, 2 May 2021, me.mashable.com/entertainment/13818/selena-gomez-launches-mental-health-101-initiative-to-advocate-mental-health.