Celebrities Who Speak Up About Their Health Issues Can Help Reduce Stigma, Experts Say

Over the past few weeks, several famous faces have announced news about their health. Ed Sheeran opened up about living with an eating disorder, Maria Menounos shared her pancreatic cancer journey, Toni Braxton opened up about lupusJewel spoke with “CBS Mornings” about her mental health reset, and Meghan Trainor revealed her vaginismus diagnosis, to name a few.

As more and more celebrities speak candidly about their health and mental health problemsexperts say it can have a positive impact on fans and other viewers by raising awareness and removing stigma.

“We know that celebrities sharing their experiences is a way to increase knowledge and general education about specific health issues,” says Dr. Adiele Hoffman, GP and medical advisor at the Women’s Health app. Flo. “Improving awareness can also influence positive health behaviors, such as seeking help from professionals and accessing trusted sources of information.”

While there isn’t a huge amount of medical evidence surrounding celebrity disclosures, mental health research has shown there can be an impact. In a 2022 analysis, for example, researchers found that celebrity disclosures about mental health can lead to reduced stigma and greater acceptance of people with mental health issues.

Disclosures about mental health can also help counter false beliefs about conditions and minimize stereotypes, Hoffman adds.

For example, Ed Sheeran revealing his experience with binge eating earlier this year helped shine a light on the fact that men can also deal with body image issues and eating disorders.

Ed Sheeran performs at the Academy of Country Music Awards (ACM)
Ed Sheeran performs during the Academy of Country Music Awards in Frisco, Texas on May 11, 2023.


“People with eating disorders and body image issues generally feel shame and find it hard to open up about their challenges and ask for help. By being open about their challenges, celebrities remind us that anyone can be affected by these issues and it’s okay to talk about them and ask for help,” says Elizabet Altunkara, Director of Education. at the National Eating Disorders Association.

Seeing an admired celebrity who has faced and overcome these challenges, or who is in the process of recovery, can also generate a sense of hope, Altunkara says. Moreover, it helps the stars to have a great platform.

“Celebrities have a large audience and reach. If they raise awareness about eating disorders and mental health issues in general, they have the ability to raise awareness on a larger scale,” she says. “Knowing that your favorite celebrity also battled an eating disorder and was able to recover not only gives hope, but also underscores the fact that eating disorders are non-discriminatory and can affect no anyone.”

Hoffman thinks the same benefits can apply to other health disclosures as well.

“Celebs are sharing their experiences, especially those who are opening up about stigmatized women’s health issues like Chrissy Teigen has on her infertility journey And pregnancy losscan play a powerful role in raising public awareness and understanding,” says Hoffman. “People can also learn by observing a celebrity’s actions and results – a celebrity is still popular and respected despite their condition and any concerns about potential negative consequences.

Hoffman also thinks celebrity disclosures about health topics often considered “taboo” can help normalize these conversations and reduce both public stigma and self-stigma.

“Having positive role models in the media openly discussing taboo topics like sex and sex-related health topics can help break down barriers and open up the conversation,” she says. “When a celebrity talks openly about a taboo subject, like vaginismus, it’s like they’re allowing people to talk about it too. Suddenly people feel more comfortable asking for help, which which they might not have done due to either a lack of understanding or embarrassment.”

Hoffman says it’s important to remember that the media’s portrayal of celebrities and their condition also plays a key role, noting the importance of providing accurate information. It’s also helpful for fans to remember that individuals are all different, and celebrities’ experiences won’t necessarily be the same as theirs.

“While it’s great to normalize these experiences, we need to remember that we are all unique and need to see a doctor for personalized diagnosis and treatment,” Hoffman says.

If you or someone you know has body image or eating issues, the National Eating Disorders Association’s free and confidential helpline is available by phone or text at 1-800-931-2237 or by click-to-chat message at nationalatingdisorders.org/helpline. For 24/7 crisis situations, text “NEDA” to 741-741.

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