Lady Gaga Discusses Rape, PTSD, and Mental Health: I ‘Think About Dying’
In Oprah and Prince Harry’s new series about mental health, Gaga talks about the years of trauma she’s dealt with since being raped at age 19 and the importance of speaking out.
In The Me You Can’t See, the groundbreaking Apple TV+ documentary series about mental health on which Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry are partnering, Winfrey says, “The telling of the story. The being able to say out loud, ‘This is what happened to me,’ is crucial.”
In conversation with her, Harry agrees, “The only way to free yourself and break out is to tell the truth.”
Both he and Winfrey share their own epiphanies and journeys with mental illness and mental health, as well as what it’s meant to relate their experience to others. Episodes of the series also feature stories from a chef, an athlete, and the late comedian Robin Williams’ son. Each segment opens with the first name of the person who will be explaining their experience in the hopes of helping others. It’s a shock when, in the premiere episode, the name “Stefani” appears on the screen.
Stefani, of course, is the first name of Lady Gaga, who is emotional and candid about a rape she experienced as a teenager. She cut herself, she said, and suffered post-traumatic stress. But she is also candid about the steps she took and still takes to deal with it. The episode premieres Friday on the streaming service.
“It’s really hard for me to articulate in a way that I feel like it’s safe for young people to listen, or even older people to listen about why anyone would cut,” she says about the cutting. “I do believe that those urges for me came from a place [where] I need to show the hurt inside.”
She explains that when she was 19 and getting her start in the music industry, she was asked by a producer to take her clothes off. When she didn’t comply, the producer allegedly said they would burn all her music, and then kept asking.
“Then I just froze and I just…” she says, pausing as she starts to cry. “I don’t—don’t even remember. And I will not say his name. I understand this Me Too movement and I understand people feel real comfortable with this, and I do not. I do not ever want to face that person again.”
Years later, she would still feel physical pain from the experience. There would be episodes where she would feel full-on pain and then go numb, she said. She was sick for weeks at a time. “I realized it was the same pain I felt when the person who raped me dropped me off pregnant on the corner, at my parents’ house, because I was vomiting and sick. Because I was being abused.”
She first shared the story with Winfrey during the host’s 2020 arena tour, saying she “developed PTSD as a result of being raped and also not processing that trauma.”
She began publicly discussing her experiences with PTSD in 2016, posting a letter on the website of her Born This Way Foundation that said, “Traditionally, many associate PTSD as a condition faced by brave men and women that serve countries all over the world. While this is true, I seek to raise awareness that this mental illness affects all kinds of people, including our youth.”
During her episode of The Me You See, she says, “I want to be able to tell everyone who’s watching that I dry my tears now and move on.” She did not sugarcoat the message that it gets better, however. She reveals that, at one point, she had a psychotic break trying to deal with her trauma. “For a couple years, I was not the same girl.”
The episode shows headlines of when Gaga canceled dates of her Joanne world tour in 2018, indicating that the psychotic break happened around that time. She talks about how when she visited doctors, tests like MRIs wouldn’t reveal anything. “The way I feel when I feel pain is how I felt after I was raped,” she says. “But your body remembers.”
It took her two and a half years, during which she powered through her career, to deal with the trauma of that incident. When a producer asks what she was doing in that career, she laughs. “I won an Oscar,” she says, referring to her 2019 win for Best Original Song. “Nobody knew!”
“Even if I have six brilliant months, all it takes is getting triggered once to feel bad,” she says about her recovery. “And when I say I feel bad, I mean I want to cut. Think about dying. Wondering if I’m ever going to do it. I learned all the ways to pull myself out of it.”
“What’s so interesting is the line I walk feeling like I wanna cut myself and feeling like I don’t are actually real close together,” she says. “Everybody thinks it’s gotta be a straight line, that it’s like every other virus, that you get sick and then you get cured. It’s not like that. It’s just not like that. And actually I think that traps people.”
At the end of her segment, she echoes the same message preached by Winfrey and Prince Harry: That sharing the story is part of her healing process. That validating and articulating your own mental health journey can help others.
“I don’t tell this story for my own self-service, because, to be honest, it’s hard to tell,” she says. “I feel a lot of shame about it. How do I explain to people that I have privilege, I’ve got money, I’ve got power, and I’m miserable? How do you do that? I’m not here to tell my story to you because I want anybody to cry for me. I’m good. But open your heart up for somebody else. Because I’m telling you I’ve been through it and people need help. So that’s part of my healing, being able to talk to you.”