Four years after Lady Gaga established the Born This Way Foundation, which aims to inspire youth and build supportive communities, the music superstar opened up about her own private life-long battle with depression to Billboard.
In the interview, she remembered Jamey Rodemeyer, who tweeted a note to her just prior to taking his own life on Sept. 18, 2011. Four months prior to his suicide, Rodemeyer made a video for the It Gets Better Project. Lady Gaga spoke about the many ways her fans have reached out to her personally for help through troubling times.
"Jamey's death, as well as the suicide of a lot of young teens that year, right around the release of Born This Way," she told Billboard. "When that album came out, Jamey heard pieces of it and was posting about it on the Internet, but unfortunately, he was already in that very deep dark space."
The tales of death and depression from her young fans forced her to take action. "Many of them were really young: 11- to 17-year-olds in very tumultuous times," Lady Gaga told Billboard. "They would tell me their stories, and many of them were very dark. As I began to care for them and to see myself in them, I felt I had to do something that would remind kids they're not alone. When they feel isolated, that's when it leads to suicide."
Lady Gaga is correct. According to the Trevor Project, suicide is the second most common cause of death for people ages 10 to 24. Gay, lesbian and bisexual youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide as their straight peers, while questioning youth are three times more likely. Almost half of transgender young people have seriously considered taking their lives, while one-quarter have made a suicide attempt. Those LGBT youth whose families reject them are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide than those who do not report rejection.
More than 150,000 people visited the foundation's Born Brave Bus, a pop-up resource center, and it is also the setting where Lady Gaga heard many of these stories firsthand. According to her, the common thread in many of these situations was depression and anxiety, which she said she related to personally.
"Depression and anxiety really link [these stories]," she told Billboard. "There is something in the way that we are now, with our cell phones and people are not looking at each other and not being in the moment with each other, that kids feel isolated. They read all of this extremely hateful language on the Internet. The Internet is a toilet. It is. It used to be a fantastic resource — but you have to sort through shit to find the good stuff."
Bullying in school is a major source of stress, anxiety and depression for LGBT youth. According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, 71.3% of LGBT students hear homophobic remarks nearly every day. Nearly 82% experience some form of verbal harassment, more than 38% experience physical harassment and 18.3% experienced assault.
Getting personal: Finally, Lady Gaga opened up about her own battles with depression and anxiety. "I've suffered through depression and anxiety my entire life. I still suffer with it every single day," she told Billboard.
"I've suffered through depression and anxiety my entire life. I still suffer with it every single day." — @ladygaga
Lady Gaga also spoke about her new single "'Til It Happens to You," which she recorded with Oscar-nominated songwriter Diane Warren. The video, which contains some graphic images of sexual assault, was hard for her to record and produce. But Lady Gaga said she found help from Warren and the stories of other survivors.
"It was extremely cathartic to know that not only am I not alone, but that other men and women aren't alone — we all have each other," she told Billboard. "Even outside of rape culture, there are a lot of people silently in pain about extremely traumatic things."
Gaga herself is a survivor of sexual assault. "I didn't tell anyone [about my sexual assault] for years — and I didn't tell anyone for years because I didn't tell myself for years," she told Billboard. "And my soul just burnt out until it was gone. And then you have to admit you were in pain, and that you died in a way, but you are in control to bring it back, and there are people in the world who'll help you."
Lady Gaga reflected on what she's done with her foundation and why she continues the work.
"When I see the friendships these kids have built," she told Billboard. "When I see a child with an eating disorder sit down with somebody who has a lifelong terminal illness and somebody who's in transition — that makes me feel like we're doing something no one else is. This is my life purpose, this foundation. This is why I was brought to life, I think."