Selena Gomez, Mental Health & the World of Pop Music

In 2013, pop singer Selena Gomez abruptly cancelled the end of her tour saying that she needed to spend some time on herself. A few months later in January of 2014, she checked herself into a rehabilitation facility in Arizona. Just as they had been speculating about on her on-off romance with fellow pop star, Justin Bieber, tabloid magazines and websites made all kinds of proclamations as to why the then-22-year old had entered rehab. Having recently shed the Disney-kid skin she’d worn since her pre-teen years, everything from pills to alcohol to, perhaps the most heavily tipped reason in continuing to suffer a broken heart, was seen as a viable explanation.

In reality, Gomez’s stay in rehab had nothing to do with the loss of her relationship or an attempt to make a point of distancing herself from her former image. She revealed after the fact in an interview with Billboard that she had been undergoing chemotherapy as part of her treatment for the autoimmune disease Lupus. Continuing to tour was not an option for the sake of her physical and mental health. 

In that same interview, Gomez stated that she didn’t want to talk about hitting rock bottom at the time for fear of being taken advantage of to sell magazines and get website clicks. She had “wanted so badly to say ‘You guys have no idea. I’m in chemotherapy. You’re assholes.’ But I was angry I even felt the need to say that. I locked myself away until I was confident and comfortable again.” Another album, the empowered pop sensation Revival, and other transitions like removing her mother from her duties as her manager, the most-followed person on Instagram seemed set for popular music domination.

Yesterday, however, she announced that she would be taking another break from touring. This time, she openly declared that she needed to take time off for much needed self-care as she had been suffering from panic attacks, anxiety and depression – side effects of her battle with Lupus. She made the announcement, stating that she “wants to be proactive and focus on maintaining my health and happiness, and have decided that the best way forward is to take some time off … I need to face this head-on to ensure I am doing everything possible to be my best,”

Gomez is one of a few pop singers who have recently been candid in sharing their experiences with mental health issues. A few months ago, former One Direction member Zayn Malik cited the worst anxiety he’d ever suffered in his career as the reason for cancelling a performance in London. As anyone who has struggled with anxiety or other mental health issues can probably empathise, such a move takes courage. There is often a very real (and unfair) threat or fear that taking time for one’s self will be interpreted as being lazy or a ‘cop out’ rather than a real issue that requires time and space to address and try to work through.

Singer Halsey has often made note of the importance of being open when talking about mental health. Similarly to Gomez’s sentiment in her Billboard interview, Halsey has also commented on the dangers of being taken advantage of to gain views when talking about mental health. When she revealed in an interview that she has bipolar disorder and discussed her suicide attempt as a teenager, she found that she was misquoted and presented as a trivialised version of herself. She was quoted as calling herself a “tri-bi” – that is: biracial, bisexual and bipolar – a somewhat offensive and dismissive illustration of her identity.

It’s so frustrating for me because as soon as I came out about it, publications [started] using it as a fetishisation, and it becomes a headline or clickbait. That’s dangerous. They don’t get how counterproductive that is, they make it seem like it’s a trend, or an accessory to get people to read their interview. – Oyster

Mental health issues are not something to be dismissed nor fetishised.  Nor are they something to be ashamed of or hidden away. Having pop stars like Selena Gomez and Zayn Malik and Halsey coming out so openly about their struggles and about doing what they need to in order to take care of themselves is perhaps even more important. With the influence they each have, especially over such young audiences who may be coming into themselves and not understanding where to go or what to do, seeing people with such a wide reach and influence speaking candidly about mental health and about seeking help is perhaps one of the most positive things in the current world of pop music.

As she said via her statement cancelling her tour, Gomez is aware of the influence and platform she has (the same one she was recently criticised for not putting to use much in the way Taylor Swift has been in the past, but that’s another issue altogether). She said that she knew she was not alone in needing to address her mental health issues and that by sharing hers, she hopes “others will be encouraged to address their own issues.”

Image: Billboard