I read a Reuters Health article the other day that highlights a survey reported in the Archives of General Psychiatry:

The survey, of more than 5,000 U.S. adults ages 19 to 25, found that mental health disorders were common among both college students and those not in college. But neither group was likely to have had the problem addressed; overall, one-quarter had sought treatment for their mental health disorder in the previous year.

Obviously the findings aren’t 100% spot on, because the surveys asked the participants “standard questions used to diagnose substance abuse and other mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety disorders and bipolar disorder,” so, regular trips to the psychiatrist it was not.

However, if we assume the participants all answered honestly, then we can probably safely assume some of them may actually be suffering from an anxiety problem, or depression, or substance abuse.

Why are so few seeking treatment? Is it because of the stigma attached to mental illness? Lack of resources? Inadequate knowledge about mental health?

I expect it’s all of those things, which leads me to my next question: If more celebrities spoke out about mental health issues, would more young people be prompted to act?

Celebrities aren’t gods (no matter how I act each Monday night when Prison Break comes on); however, many of them do have the eyes and ears of 19- to 25-year-old young adults, like those included in the survey. They have the eyes and ears of many folks of all ages. Actors, musicians, and just generally well-known public figures often influence clothing fashion, hairstyles, and behavior. Celebrities even influence religious views, for Pete’s sake.

Couldn’t they also influence education and proper care when it comes to mental health?

Back in 1998, when she lost her husband to colon cancer, Katie Couric became a fervent advocate for the awareness and prevention of colon cancer:

After I lost my husband, Jay, to colorectal cancer in 1998, I became determined to share my newfound knowledge about this deadly disease with the public. My decision to become an advocate for colon cancer awareness and prevention seemed perfectly logical — over 6.3 million people watch the “Today” show every day — to not use it as a bully pulpit to impart potentially life-saving information seemed to me then and now tantamount to criminal negligence.

Couric used her own celebrity to spread an simple, important message: Colon cancer kills. Let’s learn to prevent and treat it. She co-founded the National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance (NCCRA) and even underwent a live colonoscopy to show viewers she practiced what she preached.

Naturally, I’m not suggesting celebrities sign up for live broadcasts of their trips to the psychiatrist’s couch (wonder what kind of reality show that would make); I’m merely pointing to an example of successful celebrity advocacy work. I know a lot of people who went out and scheduled colonoscopies during that time.

We’re not talking the latest Louis Vuitton creation here people. We’re talking responsible health care.

So, what do you think? If you’re older, would you have been more active with your own mental health care if a celebrity you respected preached its importance? If you’re younger, would you be more apt to seek help – or at least start to acknowledge mental health problems more – if your favorite celebrity came forward about the issue?

To learn more about celebrities who are active in mental health advocacy, check out: