Lady Gaga has worked tirelessly to help people with mental health problems, sharing her own struggles with debilitating depression. So why hasn’t she addressed the very real and dangerous depressive and suicidal triggers in the film?
Trigger Warning: The following story discusses a completed suicide in a film and links to potentially triggering articles. Proceed with caution. If you feel you are at risk and need help, skip the story and get help now. Options include: Calling the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-TALK (8255), calling 911, and calling a friend or family member to stay with you until emergency medical personnel arrive to help you.
(This piece contains spoilers for A Star is Born.)
Months after its release, the highly-acclaimed A Star is Born is still generating plenty of headline-worthy buzz, most recently with an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.
It’s an incredible movie with an equally impressive soundtrack; I had every song memorized long before I seeing the movie. But months after seeing A Star is Born on a rare date-night with my husband, I still feel that Lady Gaga—Mother Monster herself—let the entire mental health community down. And while I agree that the Oscar-buzz is well-deserved, I also wonder at the media’s lack of attention to the film’s numerous potential triggers for alcoholism, addiction, depression, and suicide.
Lady Gaga has made a name for herself as more than just a performer, using her platform to bring awareness to preventative mental health care. She’s spoken publicly about her personal struggles with her own “debilitating mental health spirals,” amassing a following of “Little Monsters” – fans who see themselves in her message. She and her mother, Cynthia Germonatta, created the Born This Way Foundation for a “kinder and braver world.” Germonatta also notably presented to The United Nations General Assembly in 2018 on behalf of the Born This Way Foundation on the topic of mental health, launching the United for Global Mental Health initiative. According to its Twitter page, the initiative’s vision is “a world where everyone, anywhere, can turn to someone who is able to support their mental health when needed.”
You could say that I’ve been stanning Lady Gaga since before “stanning” was even a word, so I was well aware of her activism before seeing the movie. I was thrilled going into A Star is Born. But my excitement soon gave way to anxiety and sadness. Certain scenes left me dismayed and shaken, stunned that there weren’t safety protocols put into place to warn the very fans she has worked so hard to fight for and protect.
Never having seen the original film (and not having done any research on the film before seeing it) I still knew going in that A Star is Born wasn’t going to have a happy ending. One friend had posted on Facebook that she was “gutted” as the credits rolled. But even that did not prepare me for the very real and incredibly dangerous depressive and suicidal triggers contained within the film’s ending, most notably Jack’s suicide (and the very brief glimpse of the belt from which he was hanging swinging through the garage windows). That shot alone, while problematic in terms of the little that could be seen and the dangers of suicidal triggers according to The Association for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), I might have been able to shake off. It wasn’t until the moment after Jack’s brother, Bob, was consoling Ally (played by Gaga) following Jack’s suicide, telling her that it was nobody’s fault but Jack’s, that I cracked.
I waited, breathless and crying, for Mother Monster to channel herself through the character she was portraying on the big screen, to speak up. She’d done so repeatedly while Jack was still alive and fighting his addiction, assuring him that alcoholism is a disease and that there was no blame to be placed or taken on.
All she needed to say was that the addiction won; that Jack’s suicide wasn’t any more his fault than his alcoholism had been.
But she didn’t. And it broke me.
For a brief moment, I thought that maybe I was the only one. Maybe I was overreacting. Maybe I was just being too sensitive. But it wasn’t just me.
In researching this piece, I discovered that complaints of “viewer distress” in New Zealand had caused the film to be reclassified with a suicide warning note. But why wasn’t a trigger warning for suicide added to the beginning of the film from the get-go?
David Shanks, head of the New Zealand film classification board, was quoted in The Guardian after demanding that the film add a warning to protect vulnerable viewers. “For those who have lost someone close to them, a warning gives them a chance to make an informed choice about watching.”
Houston-based licensed therapist Bill Prasad notes that for those who haven’t yet seen A Star is Born, it’s best to skip the film if proper resources are not in place.
“Triggers can be tricky and dangerous,” said Prasad, who added that those in the early stages of sobriety may also be adversely affected.
The AFSP’s fact sheet on suicide statistics, warning signs, and risk factors includes “Exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of suicide” among the many risk factors for triggering those vulnerable to act. A Star is Born triggered for me my own “debilitating mental health spiral.” I withdrew from my friends, both personal and those in my social media circles. I stopped writing. I stopped sleeping at night and started sleeping too much during the day. And when no one was looking, I kept crying.
As a writer whose livelihood depends on my ability to create, I lost months of income. As a survivor of my own suicide attempt with a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder, I am grateful that I’m not actively suicidal now or when I saw the film. That doesn’t mean, however, that I am not sensitive to associated triggers. Two months later, I’m still trying to find all the pieces and put myself back together.
I’m not asking for Hollywood to hold my hand. I know that hard stories need to be told. A Star is Born is a brilliantly acted film and rightfully deserves all the attention it continues to receive. I understand that perhaps it might not have been “realistic” for Ally to snap out of her grief-stricken state and set Jack’s brother right about how dangerous it is to blame the victim, that it’s never okay to even imply that.
So I waited for Mother Monster herself to set the record straight after the fact.
But she didn’t.
Lady Gaga didn’t say a word. Not then, and not after, during countless interviews, did she reassure her monsters that depression is an illness beyond the control of the afflicted. Not once did she say that no one should ever blame the suicidal.
As Prasad reminds us, “If you are struggling after the movie, reach out to someone or get professional help. You don’t have to suffer alone.”
If you or someone you know may be at risk for suicide, immediately seek help. You are not alone.
- Calling the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-TALK (8255)
- Calling 911
- Calling a friend or family member to stay with you until emergency medical personnel arrive to help you.