Lady Gaga is opening up about a sexual assault she suffered at the age of 19 — and why it still haunts her today.
“I have a mental illness, and I struggle with that mental illness every day,” the singer-songwriter told teenagers at New York City’s Ali Forney Center, a shelter for homeless LGBT youth, during a segment for the Today show. “My own trauma in my own life has helped me to understand the trauma of others.”
In a subsequent one-on-one interview on Today, Gaga opened up about her mental illness. “I suffer from PTSD,” she said. “I’ve never told anyone that before, so here we are.” The singer says her posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the result of being raped in her teens, a traumatic event she first spoke about publicly during an interview with Howard Stern in 2014.
— xoxo, Joanne (@ladygaga) December 5, 2016
Gaga highlighted the new interview on her Twitter account Monday. “Today I shared one my deepest secrets w/ the world,” she wrote, linking to a video of the interview. “Secrets keep you sick w/ shame.”
According to Gaga, kindness from doctors, family, and friends has “really saved my life.” She added, “I’ve been searching for ways to heal myself, and I’ve found that kindness is the best way.”
Posttraumatic stress disorder is a “mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, such as combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault,” according to the National Center for PTSD. Symptoms vary by person but can include reliving the event through flashbacks or nightmares, avoiding situations that remind a patient of the traumatic event, and feeling on edge.
An estimated 8 percent of the population will have PTSD at some point in their lives, and about 8 million people suffer from the condition each year, according to the National Center for PTSD.
PTSD can be debilitating, Simon Rego, PsyD., director of psychology training and the cognitive behavioral therapy training program at New York’s Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine, tells Yahoo Beauty. “Posttraumatic stress disorder is, in its essence, reliving and re-experiencing memories associated with events during which, by definition, we thought our lives or the lives of our loved ones were at risk,” he says. “These memories keep coming back and are very distressing.”
“Living with PTSD is excruciating for sufferers and those around them,” licensed clinical psychologist Alicia H. Clark, Psy.D. “Every aspect of life is colored through the lens of trauma, and it becomes hard to see life any other way.”
People who suffer from PTSD can be jittery, have difficulty sleeping, suffer from anxiety, and see reminders of the event or person in everyday life, Rego says. “It can be as benign as the cologne the assaulter was wearing or the time of day the assault happening — and it can make people very emotionally upset,” Rego says, noting that people with PTSD may shape their lives to try to avoid these triggers or become emotionally numb. “It really causes this disability in functioning,” he says.
Luckily, there are treatments available for people who suffer from PTSD, no matter what the cause of the disorder. The National Center for PTSD recommends several methods, including prolonged exposure therapy (in which patients learn to gradually approach trauma-related memories, feelings, and situations that they’ve been avoiding since the trauma) and cognitive processing therapy (a form of talk therapy that teaches patients how to evaluate and change upsetting thoughts they’ve had since their trauma). “Both have compelling evidence to show that they can help people get through PTSD in a relatively short amount of time,” Rego says. (The FDA also recently gave the go-ahead for clinical trials for the use of MDMA, i.e. Ecstasy, in therapy for PTSD patients.)
Rego says it’s “definitely” possible for most people who suffer from PTSD to get better by learning to control their symptoms. “Sometimes in as few as two sessions a week for five weeks, you can have your life back,” he says.