Music, MHCGM, and Mental Health First Aid

An icon’s embrace of 5 steps to help someone in distress.

The music career of singer/songwriter Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, a.k.a Lady Gaga, is best described as meteoric. Her 2008 debut album Fame sold more than 15 million copies and was later re-released as Fame Monster, nominated for 6 Grammys and ultimately claiming Best Pop Vocal Album. Despite such immediate success, it’s Gaga’s sophomore album, Born This Way (2011), which may prove her most impactful. In 2012 Lady Gaga and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, launched the Born This Way Foundation with the express purpose of “supporting the wellness of young people and empowering them to create a kinder and braver world.”

Diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) herself, Lady Gaga is open about her daily struggles, writing, “My body is in one place and my mind in another. It’s like the panic accelerator in my mind gets stuck and I am paralyzed with fear.” Psychotherapy and medication help her manage the symptoms, yet Gaga is astutely aware of the power of mental health education and empathy hence the Born This Way Foundation’s involvement with Mental Health First Aid (MHFA).

Often described as CPR for the mind, Mental Health First Aid is a nationwide 8-hour educational program that in ten short years boasts more than 1 million trainees. Topics of the intensive course include identifying “common risk factors and warning sign of specific types of illnesses, like anxiety, depression, substance use, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and schizophrenia.” MHFA participants are taught to engage a five-step action plan, cleverly named ALGEE, when attempting to support someone with signs of mental illness or emotional distress:

  • Assess for risk of suicide or harm
  • Listen nonjudgmentally
  • Give reassurance and information
  • Encourage appropriate professional help
  • Encourage self-help and other support strategies

Thankfully, the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester offers courses in both Mental Health First Aid and Youth Mental Health First Aid, which is targeted toward adults who work with young people ages 12 to 18, emphasizing the importance of early intervention. So far we’ve taught the courses to over 300 people in the community with a goal of increasing that by an additional 150 in the next calendar year. Should you or someone you know be interested in attending or hosting such a course, please contact Dave Carroll at Skills learned in MHFA certainly could make all the difference.

For Lady Gaga, “the most inexpensive and perhaps the best medicine in the world is words. Kind words…positive words…words that help people who feel ashamed of an invisible illness to overcome their shame and feel free.”

Well put. And together, we shall overcome.