1:59am PT by Chris Gardner
Lady Gaga Talks Suicide and Masochistic Behavior at SAG-AFTRA Foundation Gala
Lady Gaga gave two warnings to the crowd of 500 inside Beverly Hills' Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday night when she took the stage just after 9 p.m. The first came when she cautioned that she didn't feel like she belonged on the honorees roster for the SAG-AFTRA Foundation's 3rd annual Patron of the Artists Awards, a shortlist that included Hollywood heavyweights Harrison Ford, Spike Lee and veteran executive Jeffrey Katzenberg.
And the second was that she had spent three and a half hours writing a speech she feared would be too long and boring. "So if you’d like to settle in or possibly leave, I just wanted to give you the opportunity," explained the 32-year-old global superstar.
No one left, nor did there seem to be a single inattentive guest inside the Bram Goldsmith Theater as the A Star Is Born breakout delivered a passionate 23-minute acceptance speech that doubled as a call-to-action to build programs, awareness and infrastructure for mental health support and services. She also pledged to donate funds and partner with the SAG-AFTRA Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to providing comprehensive resources for SAG-AFTRA members, on building such initiatives for the organization.
Lady Gaga — welcomed to the stage by Star is Born co-star Sam Elliott, who feted her with touching words like, "It’s not enough for her to be known all over the world, to be a brilliant artist and entertain people; she has this humanitarian bone in her body and she wants to make people feel better" — took her time in building a case for the cause.
"We are losing a generation of young people who do not believe that their voices are worth hearing, that their pain has no end and that their contributions are not valuable enough to move the needle in society and culture. We are facing a crisis of epic proportions and the cause of that crisis is our inability or unwillingness to be open and honest about one thing — mental health, today," said Gaga, dressed in Dior by Maria Grazia Chiuri. "I’m sad to say, but with truth in my heart and knowledge, that we are in the midst of a global mental health crisis. Today, one in four people experience mental health crisis. I am one of those people."
She revealed that she suffered through her own mental health crisis, sparked by years of being a "yes" person, agreeing to jobs, interviews and events because she didn't know that she had an alternative choice. "I was not empowered to say no. I began to notice that I would stare off into space and black out for seconds or minutes. I would see flashes of things I was tormented by, experiences that were filed away in my brain as 'I will deal with you later' for many years because my brain was protecting me as science teaches us," she explained. "This later morphed into physical chronic pain, Fibromyalgia, panic attacks, acute trauma responses and debilitating mental spirals that have included suicidal ideation and masochistic behavior."
The goal of her revelation was to help the organization raise funds for other artists so that they could avoid a similar destructive path. "I wish there had been a system in place to protect and guide me. A system in place to empower me to say no to things I felt I had to do. A system in place to empower to stay away from toxic working environments or working with people that were of seriously questionable character. There were days I struggled or couldn’t make it to work. I don’t want that for other artists or for anyone," she said.
While the subject matter is a heavy one, the event itself had a good energy thanks to A-list appearances from Gaga's fellow honorees and an electric musical program that featured performances by Kristin Chenoweth, Adam Lambert, Ledisi and Arlissa and presenters including Ryan Gosling, Alison Brie, Guillermo del Toro, Adam Driver, Topher Grace, Tony Hale, John David Washington, Henry Winkler and Michelle Yeoh. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend star and co-creator Rachel Bloom also livened up the crowd with her hosting duties, thanks to a comedic intro and outro to bookend the festivities that also featured a pre-and-post show reception on the Wallis Annenberg courtyard.
Ford also used his speech to shine a light on his own personal cause, environmental activism to help fight global climate change. "I was so happy Harrison said that because I was like, 'OK, maybe my speech might fly a little bit tonight,'" Lady Gaga quipped in her remarks. Her words were reminiscent of the recent Elle magazine Women in Hollywood Awards where she also promoted mental health awareness, though Thursday's speech provided a more studied and thoughtful outline for how to achieve that.
"I want us as leaders and as peers — although I don’t feel totally like a peer — to trust ourselves, to believe how we’re feeling and that however we’re feeling is important and subsequently generate and surround ourselves with communities, people and resources that don’t just want to fix us but want to help us thrive," said Gaga.
A full transcript of Lady Gaga's speech is below.
Okay, so first I have to say hi to the band. I don’t know, it’s just like ritual or something. [She walks to center stage to shake several bandmember's hands.] They’ve been incredible all night, haven’t they? And I just want to warn you, I feel very much like I do not belong here.
Um, so I spent three and a half hours writing what I was going to say, and as I’ve been sitting here all night, I’ve been going, "Oh, my god, your speech is too long and everyone is going to get bored." So if you’d like to settle in or possibly leave, I just wanted to give you the opportunity.
I am extremely humbled and grateful to be here and honored tonight. The SAG-AFTRA Foundation, thank you. Your nonprofit work facilitating assistance programs and free educational panels and classes is beyond admirable. And I hope I can truly be a helping hand this evening and fundraise and support these programs and celebrate your work because it is so deserving of a true celebration.
I am privileged to be honored alongside Spike Lee, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Harrison Ford, again feeling like I don’t belong here. You use your platforms and voices to both raise awareness and enforce change and be change, and I feel deeply that there is nothing more respectable one with such a platform can do. It is also immensely special to me to be introduced by someone that I love and respect so much, Sam Elliott, my dear friend. Working on A Star is Born with Sam was one of the most fulfilling experiences as an artist I’ve ever had.
We shared scenes deep rooted in themes of trauma, alcoholism, codependency, mental health and suicide and I will be forever indebted to him for sharing those authentic moments with me. I swear this man looks at me on camera the same way he looks at me off camera. There is no change. So thank you, Sam, for baring your soul to all of us for decades. Sam, you are truly a rare human being who possesses in spades the very thing I wish to speak to you all about tonight — kindness.
What I knew I would see when I looked into this room is not just a group of people who function and exist in a variety of ways, who I see when I look into this room are a group of leaders. And I want to help you raise a shit ton of fucking money. I’m so sorry for cursing I know that my stage name is Lady but he called me Stefani so maybe it balances out.
I also want to partner with you on things that are important to me in my philanthropic work. What you are doing for artists within this community is absolutely astounding. Thank you, thank you, thank you on behalf of all artists. But, of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t say how I truly feel and be a little chancy because I’m a rebel and that’s how I am. We always can but really need, right now, to do even more.
We are losing a generation of young people who do not believe that their voices are worth hearing, that their pain has no end, and that their contributions are not valuable enough to move the needle in society and culture. We are facing a crisis of epic proportions and the cause of that crisis is our inability or unwillingness to be open and honest about one thing — mental health, today.
I’m sad to say, but with truth in my heart and knowledge, that we are in the midst of a global mental health crisis. Today, one in four people experience mental health crisis. I am one of those people. Please look around the room, just for a second. Each year, we lose more than 800,000 mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, teachers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, coaches, veterans, doctors, nurses and artists to suicide. It is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 15-29 and it is one that is far too close to home for so many reasons. But I haven’t given up hope. And I was so happy Harrison said that because I was like, 'OK, maybe my speech might fly a little bit tonight.' I hope all the leaders in this room will join me tonight and not give up hope with me.
The work that I do everyday with my organization, the Born This Way Foundation, gives me hope and I will not stop. And I will continue to use my platform alongside anyone who wishes to come with me which is why I spent so much time writing this speech and why this will be so long and I’m sorry. I’m different. The mental health crisis and epidemic has only just recently been recognized as a global priority by the World Health Organization and the United Nations where my mother — the co-founder of the Born This Way Foundation — spoke recently and simply by you all showing up tonight, I know I am in a room filled with caring and compassionate people.
So if you are open to it, I would like to take this opportunity to use my platform — thank you for honoring me for using it — and I would like to impart some of the information, suggestions and data around mental health that the Born This Way Foundation and I have gathered. So what I’m gently trying to say, or firmly rather, that I believe it to be imperative that the SAG-AFTRA Foundation expand in its programs and provide for ones specifically devoted to mental health. How bout we do it together? How about we make a SAG-AFTRA Born This Way program? Why not?
I often say, before I speak to my psychiatrist or therapist or nurse — I’ll be babbling around the house — and I’ll say that I’m going to get my head screwed on straight. And I’m sure over the years as you’ve watched me that you probably thought that I should do that, too. Anyways, um, firstly, I would like to say that there is no reason to overcomplicate kindness. Just to do one thing in service to someone else. Start, or continue, today.
The need in this world for kindness is paralyzing. The negative news and tragedies are nonstop and overwhelming. Let’s make kindness overwhelming. Let’s together cultivate within this community a habit of kindness that is an example to the world. Let’s live in a culture of kindness through our individual acts and take back what determines our future.
Secondly, I would love your programs to encourage sharing your truth. When I give speeches about kindness, people have lively engaged discussions but when I speak about mental health, even or especially when I’m speaking about mine, it is often met with quietness, or maybe a somber line of fans waiting outside to whisper to me in the shadows about their darkest secrets. We need to bring mental health into the light. We need to share our stories so that global mental health no longer resides and festers in the darkness. It is dangerous and we know this because amongst other shootings and acts of violence.
Just last night there was a shooting in Thousand Oaks by a veteran who was believed to have suffered from untreated post traumatic stress disorder which is a mental issue. We know that this is dangerous and we know that its important and we have to pay attention to it. We lost 13 people last night, one of them being the killer himself. And I can’t remember, can you, a month in recent memory that has gone by that there has not been a shooting.
Share your stories. Reach out to someone… that you may see is suffering. Let’s develop together a program specifically around mental health. I would love to do that with you. Let’s create a safe space for mental health in this community so that we can lead the way for others around the world. This is a powerful room.
Thirdly, I hope to inspire funding not only for this program tonight but for other organizations as well so that we can expand our outreach. I say this because today, currently mental health receives less than 1% of global aid. When it comes to mental health, we all become developing countries. That is a chancy statement but I’m going to make it: Mental health conditions currently cost the world $2.5 trillion per year and if we don’t curb that, it could balloon into $6 trillion by 2030. Research shows that there is a fourfold return from every $1 invested in treating depression and anxiety. Focusing on mental health in our world is an issue that can be argued for and on every level, financially, socially, educationally, culturally. What I wish for in the SAG-AFTRA Foundation and in all systems within not just the entertainment community but around the world is for the building of mental health teams.
By the year 2030, I wish for everybody to have their person that they can talk to who is an expert and can help them. I am beckoning for this because it is perceived by many that mental health is only talked about in the midst of crisis or when something needs to be fixed. I want teams in place to provide prevention. We need to not only think in terms of doctors, billable hours and hospital stays but protective and preventative care for ourselves and each other, holistically. Do you have a mental health team? Who is on it? Who are the people you can turn to? What are the activities that can reduce our stress?
For example, a dialectical therapy class could be set up here in this foundation. It is a program that teaches distress tolerance skills to people with a variety of mental health issues. I’ve been taking this class for over a year. I want us as leaders and as peers – although I don’t feel totally like a peer — to trust ourselves, to believe how we’re feeling and that however we’re feeling is important and subsequently generate and surround ourselves with communities, people and resources that don’t just want to fix us but want to help us thrive.
I am acutely aware that there are a myriad of people in the room tonight. There are foundation affiliates, performers, directors, others from the entertainment industry, loved ones and I’m sure many others. I have spoken to you about this today as bluntly and as simply as I could because I did not have a mental health team or program when I began my career in Hollywood. And I only have one now because I had a mental health crisis and because frankly, because I can afford it. And I want artists who can’t afford it in this community to have mental health resources.
And I truly believe that the SAG-AFTRA Foundation are the superstars who can do it and make it affordable or free and accessible. So now I am going to put my money where my mouth is including a donation and I’m going to shine a light on the importance of sharing your story. I’m going to share some of mine.
Having a mental health team has completely changed my life and conditions that I have that are not curable I have learned now are treatable and I can stop living in fear and begin living with bravery. After years and years of saying yes to jobs, interviews, events – all opportunities of course that I am so humbled and grateful to have had because I know that there are so many who have not. And after working as hard as I possibly could to achieve my dreams, slowly but surely the word “yes,” “yes,” “sure,” became too automatic and my inner voice shut down which I have learned now is very unhealthy. I was not empowered to say no. I began to notice that I would stare off into space and black out for seconds or minutes. I would see flashes of things I was tormented by, experiences that were filed away in my brain as I will deal with you later for many years because my brain was protecting me as science teaches us. These were also symptoms of disassociation and PTSD and I did not have a team that included mental health support.
This later morphed into physical chronic pain, Fibromyalgia, panic attacks, acute trauma responses and debilitating mental spirals that have included suicidal ideation and masochistic behavior. OK, I’m done with my list but that list changed my life and it changed my life not in a good way.
I’m telling you this because for me, it was too late. I needed help earlier. I needed mental health care. I needed someone to see not through me or see the star that I had become, but rather see the darkness inside that I was struggling with. I wish I had mental health resources because although what I have is treatable and can hopefully and will get better over time, if there was preventative mental health care accessible to me earlier, I believe it would not have gotten as bad as it did. I wish there had been a system in place to protect and guide me. A system in place to empower me to say no to things I felt I had to do. A system in place to empower to stay away from toxic working environments or working with people that were of seriously questionable character. There were days I struggled or couldn’t make it to work. I don’t want that for other artists or for anyone.
What I’m really trying to say is that I wish that I had you when I was 19. Not only because I wish that I had a SAG card, but I also would have had a mental health program within the industry that could have prevented some of the trauma that I experienced. And the reality is that this is just one room and there is a whole world out there – a giant, giant world – and we have the power to set the example of love for decades and decades to come. So thank you. Thank you so much to the SAG-AFTRA Foundation. You are honestly incredible. I hope I was of some small help today. Thank you for all you do for artists and people. I will continue to support you and your valiant efforts and hope that, in the humblest of ways, my words tonight will be received as a call for partnership that when it comes to mental health we can and we will make it a priority by leading the way. We are the leaders.
Let's create a more nuanced infrastructure. And let’s fucking change the world.