Contrary to popular belief, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) doesn’t just affect veterans. PTSD can stem from traumas of all kinds — which is why a growing number of celebrities who have this condition are speaking out and demystifying it.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who witness or experience a traumatic event, from an accident or natural disaster, to sexual assault, to bullying or intimate partner violence. It affects an estimated 3 to 5 percent of American adults each year.
People who have PTSD may relive their trauma through harrowing flashbacks or experience disturbing thoughts or feelings about the event long after it has ended. This can cause them to have highly emotional reactions to ordinary things — for instance, a loud noise could trigger an argument or a full-blown anxiety attack. PTSD symptoms can disrupt a person’s ability to function normally, especially in situations that may trigger memories of their trauma.
Complex PTSD (CPTSD) is a related but distinct condition. Per Mayo Clinic, CPTSD stems from prolonged exposure to a traumatic situation, such as child abuse or domestic violence. Its symptoms — including anxiety, flashbacks or nightmares, heightened emotional reactions, issues in relationships, and trouble with identity or sense of self — are similarly disruptive.
Both PTSD and CPTSD are treated with psychotherapy protocols like trauma-focused CBT, exposure therapy, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). These tools can be transformative for people whose lives are clouded by traumas they experienced years or even decades ago.
So, yes, many veterans do develop PTSD, but they aren’t the only people impacted by this condition. Thanks to outspoken celebrity mental-health advocates like Lady Gaga and Travis Barker, more people are becoming aware of the nuances of PTSD and CPTSD.
Keep reading to learn more about nine celebrities who have spoken out about having PTSD or CPTSD.
In a candid 2020 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga opened up about her harrowing experience with PTSD. She first revealed her diagnosis in 2016.
“I […] developed PTSD as a result of being raped [at 19] and also not processing that trauma,” the Chromatica songstress told Winfrey, per Healthline. “I all of a sudden became a star and was traveling the world going from hotel room to garage to limo to stage, and I never dealt with it, and then all of a sudden I started to experience this incredible intense pain throughout my entire body that mimicked the illness I felt after I was raped.”
Gaga has since sought treatment for her symptoms. She’s also used her platform to raise awareness about PTSD and dispel misconceptions about the disorder.
“Traditionally, many associate PTSD as a condition faced by brave men and women that serve countries all over the world,” she wrote in a 2016 letter for The Born This Way Foundation, her mental health nonprofit. “While this is true, I seek to raise awareness that this mental illness affects all kinds of people, including our youth.”
Travis Barker survived a deadly plane crash in 2008, but the experience still left him physically and emotionally scarred. The Blink-182 drummer spent weeks in the hospital afterward dealing with third-degree burns and intense survivor’s guilt.
For years, Barker harbored an intense fear of flying. However, he’s been able to overcome it more recently with the support of his wife, Kourtney Kardashian.
“She’s been everywhere beautiful in the world… [places] that I’ve never even heard of,” he told GQ in 2022. “I was like, ‘If you ever want me to fly with you, just tell me 8 to 10 hours before.'” Kardashian took him up on the offer — and when he “tried to get out of it,” she held him through it.
“She just knew, and she stuck by me and toughed it out,” Barker added. “And it was the best flight. And I wasn’t scared once.”
Whoopi Goldberg is best known as a hilarious comedian, actress, and TV personality, but her plane-related PTSD is no laughing matter. In the ’70s, she witnessed a midair collision between two planes that left her traumatized and scared of flying for decades. She has since sought therapy.
Come 2009, Goldberg also partnered with Virgin Atlantic to overcome her fear of airplane travel once and for all. The airline offered a program called Flying Without Fear, which uses education, practical experience, and therapeutic techniques to help people face their plane-related phobias or traumas.
The experience was incredibly intense, she recalled in an episode of The View: “I am sweating a lot. My mind is doing bad stuff to me….I am not a good flyer. I don’t like it. I don’t wanna do it.”
After a 2017 terrorist attack at one of her concerts that claimed the lives of 22 people, Ariana Grande was left completely traumatized. In 2018, she told British Vogue that she wasn’t sure if she’d ever be able to talk about the horrific incident “and not cry.”
“I know those families and my fans, and everyone there experienced a tremendous amount of [PTSD] as well,” Grande said at the time. “I feel like I shouldn’t even be talking about my own experience — like I shouldn’t even say anything.”
A year later, the singer also shared photos of her brain scans to Instagram Stories. According to Grande, the scans indicate the extent of her PTSD.
“[It’s] not a joke,” she captioned the photo.
Kathy Griffin developed complex PTSD after a controversial 2017 tweet derailed her career. The comedian opened up about her experience with the condition on Tiktok earlier this year.
“Since I’ve been talking on here about PTSD, I had a freaking eight-hour attack yesterday,” she shared. “Eight hours of freaking writhing in pain in the bed.”
“Sometimes they last a few hours, or more typically, they last at least a full day, if not multiple days in a row,” Griffin continued. “I feel silly even telling you this, because I always thought PTSD was just for veterans and stuff.”
She went on to explain how strategies like walking during her panic attacks and assuring herself that they “won’t last forever” have helped her cope.
Although Alanis Morissette became a household name thanks to her 1995 album Jagged Little Pill, those years of her life weren’t all positive.
“Fame became a great tool. But I still have PTSD from the Jagged Little Pill era,” the singer-songwriter told The Guardian in 2012. “It was a profound violation. It felt like every millisecond I was attempting to set a boundary and say no, and people were breaking into my hotel rooms and going through my suitcase and pulling my hair and jumping on my car.”
Over the years, Morissette has also opened up about her struggles with addiction and postpartum suicidal ideation.
“Without therapy,” she said in a 2020 interview, “I don’t think I’d still be here.”
Barbra Streisand developed severe stagefright and PTSD in the late 1960s after she forgot the words to three of her songs while performing at Central Park. The legendary actress and singer opened up about her struggle between songs in a concert during her 2000 farewell tour.
“I was so traumatized, I couldn’t perform in front of a paying audience for close to 30 years,” she told the audience, per ABC News.
Luckily for Babs and her fans, she clearly worked through her stage fright since she was able to perform live again.
Tennis star Monica Seles developed PTSD after she was stabbed by another player at a tournament in Germany in 1993. She was just 19 years old at the time.
“I had a lot of emotions,” Seles recalled in a 1995 interview with the Los Angeles Times. “When I stepped on the court, that’s when I’d get angry. Tennis never did anything bad to me. The tennis court was my place. … I felt the safest there. All my worries were gone. I didn’t have to think about anything when I was there. Suddenly, that was taken away.”
Seles was able to work through her trauma and return to the sport she loved after being treated for PTSD by a psychotherapist.
“You have to admit pain or that you have a problem with something. It’s part of any recovery,” she said of her healing journey.
Saturday Night Live veteran Darrell Hammond has complex PTSD as a result of his traumatic childhood in an abusive home. However, it took years for the actor and comedian to get an accurate diagnosis for the mental health issues he was experiencing.
“I became sold on the idea that the way I was behaving was best described as a mental injury rather than a mental illness,” he told The New York Post in 2018. “That’s the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus of my whole life.”
Hammond uses cognitive therapy and a 12-step program to help manage his CPTSD. He also chronicled his healing journey in his 2018 documentary Cracked Up.