Lena Dunham is no stranger to speaking her mind. The writer-actress and Golden Globe winning HBO’s Girls star took to Instagram on Friday with two posts about mental illness. The first is a photo of Dunham with a mouthful of anxiety medication and her tongue sticking out captioned with, “Can I live?” which garnered nearly 20,000 likes and over 1,000 comments.
The second post contains a longer caption commenting on how the media negatively portrays the ways women cope with mental health issues, advocating “that we see normalizing portrayals of people, women, choosing to take action when it comes to their mental health.” The post racked up over 57,000 likes and more than 3,000 comments in just two days.
Lately I've been noticing that nearly every pop cultural image we see of a woman on psychiatric medication is that of an out-of-control, exhausting and exhausted girl who needs help. But guess what? Most women on meds are women who have been brave enough to help themselves. It's important that we see normalizing portrayals of people, women, choosing to take action when it comes to their mental health. Meds didn't make me a hollowed out version of my former self or a messy bar patron with a bad bleach job. They allowed to really meet myself. I wish that for every lady who has ever struggled. There's really no shame. Night, dolls ????
According to Teen Vogue, Dunham has been open about her struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Similarly, Dunham’s Girls character Hannah Horvath grapples with the anxiety disorder.
It is not the first time Dunham has publicly addressed personal obstacles and specifically those related to mental health. Dunham released a memoir in September, 2014, Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned”, a collection of essays that tackles everything from modern feminism and body consciousness to sexuality, rape and more. Prior to the book’s release, Dunham penned a piece for the New Yorker that chronicled a childhood and adolescence spent in therapy.
Apart from her self-exposing autobiography, Dunham uses social media to draw attention to the ways in which she processes personal, social, even political issues. Her Instagram feed is full of photos of Dunham and her girlfriends: makeup free selfies, rallying for Hillary Clinton, snapshots of Lenny Letter contributors—a twice weekly feminist newsletter and blog, Dunham wearing all sorts of interesting outfits. The general message she sends on social media is that woman power rules. That and the fact that she is unapologetic about her beliefs and opinions.
In April, 2015, Dunham posted a workout selfie to Instagram in which she proudly sported a pair of workout pants, tennis shoes and a yellow sports bra. The Huffington Post‘s headline read, “Lena Dunham Tackles the Stigma of Mental Health with a ‘Workout Selfie,’ ” the caption of which reads as follows.
“Promised myself I would not let exercise be the first thing to go by the wayside when I got busy with Girls Season 5 and here is why: it has helped with my anxiety in ways I never dreamed possible. To those struggling with anxiety, OCD, depression: I know it’s mad annoying when people tell you to exercise, and it took me about 16 medicated years to listen. I’m glad I did. It ain’t about the ass, it’s about the brain. Thank you @tracyandersonmethod for showing me the light (and @bandierfit is where I bought my Florida mom inspired workout look.) #notsponsored#stillmedicated”
At the time the Huffington Post article was published, Dunham’s workout selfie was well over 101,000 likes and listed more than 5,700 comments. The overwhelming response on social media and wave of support for Dunham in both instances with Instagram posts nine months apart may indicate a move toward greater acceptance and understanding of mental illness and OCD in particular.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) cites OCD as a common disorder that impacts a wide age range including children and teens, with many people diagnosed by age 19. Obessive compulsive disorder causes persistent, unwanted thoughts or irrational fears that become obsessive. People affected often engage in repetitive behaviors, or compulsions to reduce the anxiety surrounding these obsessions. The ritualistic routines that can make it difficult to concentrate and perform even the simplest daily tasks.
According to the Huffington Post, Dunham’s OCD started manifesting as early as age five. Just as this is not the first time Dunham has used her celebrity to address mental health issues among her more than two million Instagram followers, it certainly will not be the last.
[Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images]