Women’s History Month gives honor to women who have made great contributions in history. It also provides an opportunity to highlight contemporary women who are breaking down barriers and paving new paths for others in today’s world. 

We’d like to take this time during Women’s History Month to celebrate women who have served as champions for mental health. In recent years, many young women in the public eye have sparked new conversations about emotional well-being. Often, these (s)heroes advocate for other women as well as communities of color which represent populations that are, unfortunately, under-served in our healthcare system. By speaking about their own journeys, they are breaking down barriers of stigma to increase mental health awareness while also inspiring others to seek support.


Fear of being judged or discriminated against often prevents people from talking about their mental health. This can lead to feelings of shame and isolation when facing challenges that are not visible such as depression or anxiety. Simone Biles, an African American female and most decorated World Champion and Olympic gymnast of all time, spoke about her journey and encouraged others to speak about their feelings too:

“It’s challenging to talk about how you’re doing mentally since it’s an invisible injury — people can’t see it, so it’s harder to understand, but I think that’s why it’s so important we feel empowered to open up about it.”  – Simone Biles

Mental health stigma can be especially prominent in Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, which can be attributed to a complex set of historical and present-day factors. The mistreatment of BIPOC patients in the health care system has been well documented. The United States Public Health Service Study (USPHS) at Tuskegee, conducted from the 1930s to the 1970s, left hundreds of African American men with untreated syphilis without their consent. This abuse by the health care system leaves a legacy of general mistrust of medical systems and by extension, the mental health care system. Socioeconomic inequalities also contribute to disparities, ranging from limited access to care to higher rates of exposure to risk factors to poor health such as poverty and increased rates of trauma. Furthermore, culturally based beliefs that do not view mental health as a medical issue may lead some to believe that mental health is best addressed by themselves or their families, rather than professionals. These cultural norms may reinforce patients’ avoidance of talking about mental health. Health care providers who do not understand these beliefs may miss an opportunity to address mental health in their patients. The 2001 U.S. Surgeon General report, Mental Health: Culture, Race, and Ethnicity, not only highlighted these inequalities in mental health service utilization, but also recognized racism and discrimination as risk factors that can negatively impact mental health.

African American actress, Taraji P. Henson advocated for culturally appropriate care when talking about her efforts to get help for herself and her son:

“We needed someone we could trust that we’re comfortable talking to who’s culturally competent, and that became difficult. If you don’t understand or empathize or have any compassion to the Black plight in America, then you can’t help me unpack my trauma.” – Taraji P. Henson

Public figures can worry that they must remain silent as they feel as though they are representatives of their communities. In some Asian and Asian American circles, for example, women may face backlash when they attempt to express themselves publicly due to historical stereotypes and expectations.  Asian American actress Constance Wu bravely broke her silence about how she developed thoughts of suicide due to fears of being judged on social media:

“I was afraid of coming back on social media because I almost lost my life from it…[Asian Americans] don’t talk about mental health enough. While we’re quick to celebrate representation wins, there’s a lot of avoidance around the more uncomfortable issues within our community.” – Constance Wu

Issues Specific To Women

Some celebrity women use their platforms to bring light to issues that commonly affect women’s emotional health such as concerns about body image or eating disorders. Songs such as “Sorry, Not Sorry,” “Confident,” and “This Is Me,” by Latina singer Demi Lovato are proud attempts to empower women to feel comfortable as themselves.

Postpartum depression is another common problem faced by women. Model Chrissy Tiegen, who is biracial, and actress Hayden Panettiere, who is white, spoke out about their struggles and their need to seek treatments. Tiegen has been vocal about her experiences, noting that her primary care provider first helped her to understand what she was feeling. Hayden Panettiere has described how her depression led to additional problems with substance use.

While reducing stigma is the first step, getting help is key, particularly for women. Former First Lady Michelle Obama has been a staunch advocate for women to be aware of their mental health and seek support:

“Women in particular need to keep an eye on their physical and mental health, because if we’re scurrying to and from appointments and errands, we don’t have a lot of time to take care of ourselves. We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to do’ list.” – Michelle Obama

Making Connections and Seeking Treatment

The COVID-19 pandemic shed more light on the need to address mental health. Jacina Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, did not seek re-election, stating that she “no longer had enough in the tank.” Seeking support from trusted friends and family can make the difference between worsening symptoms in isolation and recovering from mental illness. Formal treatments with medications or talk therapy may be necessary for some. Primary care and obstetric/gynecology providers can connect patients with mental health providers such as psychiatrists and psychologists. Insurance companies can help patients find providers who are covered by their insurance. Free or reduced care can also be found through nonprofit organizations and local, state, or federal facilities.

As we move through Women’s History Month, let us remember the messages sent by these courageous women each and every day of the year:

“When it comes to mental health conditions, we often treat them differently from other diseases like cancer, diabetes, or asthma. Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg, or your brain, it’s still an illness and there should be no distinction. …It’s time to tell everyone who’s dealing with a mental health issue that they’re not alone, and that getting support and treatment isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength.”  – Michelle Obama