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It Takes an Icon to Change the Culture

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Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation and the National Council share a similar goal: improve the emotional health of youth.

When mental health and celebrities are talked about together, more often than not, advocates can only cringe at the resulting conversation. It’s unusual for a celebrity to take up the cause unprovoked – and it’s even more surprising coming from a global superstar with a solid place on the A list.

We first started working with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation (BTWF) around the same time that the Youth Mental Health First Aid curriculum launched. At first, we thought working with BTWF could be a good way to share some of the core messages of the course with a broader audience. Early this year and again this week, volunteers from National Council member agencies stepped up to help reach youth aboard the Born Brave Bus Tour – an effort by BTWF to inspire bravery and promote self-acceptance among young people. Or, as tweeted by Lady Gaga herself, “I feel like most kids don’t look for help because they feel embarrassed so mom + I wanted to break the stigmas around “help” and make it fun.”

At each stop, youth had the opportunity to meet like-minded peers and to connect with local resources in their communities including behavioral and mental health services. They chatted with our volunteers, who asked youth to share their strengths and think about who they go to for help. Overall, the bus tour reached nearly 10,000 youth in person.The positive response from youth about their bus experience led Lady Gaga to want to focus all of BTWF’s efforts on improving the emotional health of youth.

And together, we want to go further. Working with BTWF creates a tremendous opportunity – and responsibility – for mental health advocates to reach youth. President Obama wants communities across the US to start a conversation about mental health, one that focuses on how we can change policies and create programs to better support youth. And we agree that’s important, but another conversation needs to start – among the youth themselves.

The Born Brave Bus Tour experience has shown us that youth are willing to talk about their mental health challenges. Our next step needs to focus on getting youth to make positive choices for mental health – supporting each other, feeling comfortable seeking help, and sharing their strengths.

It’d be hard to find someone with greater reach among today’s youth (Lady Gaga has 40 million Twitter followers and 60 million Facebook fans). Together with BTWF, I’m looking forward to making that next step happen. And in continuing to make our world “fun” for youth.