Billboard cover: Lady Gaga gets personal about saving troubled teens -- 'I've suffered through depression and anxiety my whole life'

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon
Lady Gaga Reveals She 'Became Very Depressed At The End Of 2013'

Jamey Rodemeyer was a gay Lady Gaga fan from New York state. Bullied for his sexuality, the 14-year-old became a kind of online activist against harassment, even filming an "It Gets Better" video. Then, on Sept. 18, 2011, he tweeted at Gaga before taking his own life: "Bye mother monster, thank you for all you have done."

THIS COVER STORY FIRST APPEARED IN BILLBOARD MAGAZINEGET THIS WEEK'S ISSUE HERE OR SUBSCRIBE TO BILLBOARD HERE

Kids like Rodemeyer moved Gaga, 29, to establish the Born This Way Foundation, a nonprofit determined to show disenfranchised teens they weren't alone -- the pop star herself had struggled with depression. "So many young people were saying, 'How did you do it, Gaga?' " says her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, 61, who serves as the organization's co-founder and president. "'How did you overcome the issues you had?' "

Elton John Op-Ed on Tirelessly Fighting AIDS Through His Foundation: 'We Have So Much Work Left to Do' (Exclusive)

Born This Way first sponsored the Born Brave Bus Tour, a pop-up resource center that drew 150,000 visitors in two years. But more recently, the foundation has shifted its focus to peer support and preventive initiatives, including research on youth and mental health in a partnership with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, and in a forthcoming collaboration with the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which will be announced soon.

"This is all about giving kids a sense somebody cares," says Lady Gaga (center) who met fans with her mother (center, right) inside the Born Brave Bus area before a concert in Tacoma, Wash., in 2013.

Gaga's new single, "Til It Happens to You," also aligns with these missions. Released Sept. 17 in conjunction with the 2015 campus-rape documentary The Hunting Ground, the devastatingly personal ballad -- co-written with Oscar-nominated songwriter Diane Warren -- draws upon the sexual assault the artist suffered at the age of 19. "We don't have to be victims," says Gaga. "If we share our stories and stick together, we're stronger."

Lady Gaga to Be Honored as Billboard's 2015 Woman of the Year

Why did you create Born This Way?

This foundation was born from the years I spent watching my fans grow up. Many of them were really young: 11- to 17-year-olds in very tumultuous times. They would tell me their stories -- and many of them were very dark. As I began to care for them and to see myself in them, I felt I had to do something that would remind kids they're not alone. When they feel isolated, that's when it leads to suicide.

Was Jamey Rodemeyer's death also a catalyst?

Yes, absolutely. Jamey's death, as well as the suicide of a lot of young teens that year, right around the release of Born This Way. When that album came out, Jamey heard pieces of it and was posting about it on the internet, but unfortunately, he was already in that very deep dark space. Jamey and other teens who take their lives young because they feel different -- I wanted to make [ their deaths] a lesson instead of a casualty of our negligence.

Photos of Lady Gaga's style transformation over the years:

22 PHOTOS
Lady Gaga's different looks through the years
See Gallery
Billboard cover: Lady Gaga gets personal about saving troubled teens -- 'I've suffered through depression and anxiety my whole life'
HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 22: Lady Gaga performs onstage during the 87th Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on February 22, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 18: Contemporary Icon Award Recipient Lady Gaga performs onstage at the Songwriters Hall Of Fame 46th Annual Induction And Awards at Marriott Marquis Hotel on June 18, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Songwriters Hall Of Fame)
Lady Gaga and Alexander Wang arrives at the 2015 Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute Gala benefit in honor of the museums latest exhibit China: Through the Looking Glass May 4, 2015 in New York. AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 22: Recording artist Lady Gaga attends the 87th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 22, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - OCTOBER 08: Siger Lady Gaga visits the NBA Global Games Tour 2014 match between Alba Berlin and San Antonio Spurs at O2 World on October 8, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Boris Streubel/Bongarts/Getty Images)
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - SEPTEMBER 22: Artists Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga attend a press conference about the album 'cheek to cheek' at City Hall on September 22, 2014 in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo by Mark Renders/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 07: Lady Gaga walks the red carpet during the 27th Annual Kennedy Center Honors at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on December 7, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Lady Gaga attends Samsung GALAXY At Harper's BAZAAR Celebrates Icons By Carine Roitfeld at The Plaza Hotel on September 5, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Samsung)
US music star Lady Gaga waves upon her arrival at the Narita International airport in Narita, Chiba prefecture on August 12, 2014. Gaga is set to play two nights at the Chiba Marine Stadium in Tokyo on August 13 and 14 before heading to Seoul to perform at the Olympic Stadium on August 16. AFP PHOTO / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA (Photo credit should read TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 28: Lady Gaga arrives at Roseland Ballroom on March 28, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
Lady Gaga arrives at the 2014 Vanity Fair Oscar Party on March 2, 2014 in West Hollywood, California. AFP PHOTO/ADRIAN SANCHEZ-GONZALEZ (Photo credit should read ADRIAN SANCHEZ-GONZALEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 24: Singer Lady Gaga attends The 2014 MusiCares Person Of The Year Gala Honoring Carole King at Los Angeles Convention Center on January 24, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - DECEMBER 08: Lady GaGa attends on day 2 of the Capital FM Jingle Bell Ball at 02 Arena on December 8, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)
US pop music star Lady Gaga poses for photographers upon her arrival at Narita Airport, outside Tokyo on November 26, 2013. Lady Gaga is in Japan to promote her latest album 'ARTPOP'. AFP PHOTO/Toru YAMANAKA (Photo credit should read TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 24: Singer Lady Gaga performs onstage during the 2013 American Music Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on November 24, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 24: Singer Lady Gaga attends the 2013 American Music Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on November 24, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
Lady Gaga arrives for the 2013 Glamour Women of the Year Award at Carnegie Hall November 11, 2013 sponsored by LOréal Paris, to honor courageous and inspiring women who are changing the world. AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
BROOKLYN, NY - NOVEMBER 10: Lady Gaga attends artRave on November 10, 2013 in Brooklyn, New York. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Benjamin Rollins Caldwell)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 06: Lady Gaga speaks at The Daily Front Row's Fashion Media Awards at Harlow on September 6, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images for The Daily Front Row)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 19: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE. SPECIAL RATES APPLY.) Lady Gaga talks with 'The Morning Mash Up' Live on SiriusXM Hits 1 at SiriusXM Studio on August 19, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
Singer Lady Gaga arrives at Macy'€™s Herald Square in New York on September 14, 2012 to launch her first fragrance, Lady Gaga Fame, released through the singer's own Haus Laboratories in association with Coty. (Photo credit TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

You've met thousands of people who've been affected by the foundation. Who is someone you can't forget?

There are a lot of kids that I could talk about. One I've become very good friends with is this girl, Emma. She has cerebral palsy. She's in a wheelchair. I met her on the [2013] Born Brave Bus, when it followed the Born This Way Ball Tour, and we shared a very deep connection about the pain she was in. There were all these people around -- cameras and journalists wanting to capture the moment between us -- and I said to everyone, "Could you leave us alone?" I just wanted to be alone with her and ask her if she was OK. She was in her chair, kind of hunched over, but still with this very brave smile on her face. I swore I was in the presence of maybe one of the greatest people. Moments like that make you go, "Everyone should learn from this person -- this person knows what it means to self-empower through adversity, this person knows what it means to be strong when you're not."

When you're listening to these kids' stories, what's the fundamental problem?

Depression and anxiety really link them. There is something in the way that we are now, with our cell phones and people are not looking at each other and not being in the moment with each other, that kids feel isolated. They read all of this extremely hateful language on the Internet. The internet is a toilet. It is. It used to be a fantastic resource -- but you have to sort through shit to find the good stuff.

These kids just want to feel human, but they feel like robots. They don't understand why they're so sad. There are scientific reasons, which the foundation researches, why you feel sad when you look at your phone all day.

I've suffered through depression and anxiety my entire life, I still suffer with it every single day. I just want these kids to know that that depth that they feel as human beings is normal. We were born that way. This modern thing, where everyone is feeling shallow and less connected? That's not human.

What makes you proudest about Born This Way?

When I see the friendships these kids have built. When I see a child with an eating disorder sit down with somebody who has a lifelong terminal illness and somebody who's in transition -- that makes me feel like we're doing something no one else is. This is my life purpose, this foundation. This is why I was brought to life, I think.

Where does your social responsibility as an artist begin and end?

They're the same and always have been. Contrary to what many people think about me as a performer, I've never been willing to do anything. Even if my work is sometimes shocking, there's always a message behind it.

Your persona has recentlybecome more traditional. How can you still be a voice for outsiders, when you look --

Glamorous? (Laughs.) There's always a dichotomy within me. If you see me dressing really out there, I tend to be self-deprecating inside. When I dress like a lady, I tend to be feeling very wild and confident. That sounds bizarre, but I get a lot of shit done with that blond hair. I haven't changed. It's just that I'm almost 30. I'm learning how to function effectively in society.

And pretend like you're playing by the rules?

In fact, no. People expect me to show up doing something wild. The thing is, I'll do what I want when I want to do it. Right now, I want to help young kids come together and be friends. If I need to get the president's attention -- whatever I have to do -- I'll do it.

You met with President Obama in 2011 to discuss bullying in schools. What did you learn?

That he really, deeply cared. I hear from [White House senior adviser] Valerie Jarrett a lot. Even with "Til It Happens to You," Valerie said, "The video was hard to watch, but I liked how graphic [the approach] was." That's another thing Born This Way does: Rape survivors, abuse survivors come to us. I've met a lot of kids who have been sexually abused.

Watch Lady Gaga's 'Til It Happens to You' Behind-the-Scenes Clip: Exclusive

What were the personal stakes in recording "Til It Happens to You"?

Never higher. It's hard to listen to that song, it's hard to watch it. Diane [Warren] really held my hand. I was like, "I've done a lot of things Diane, but can I do this?" She was like, "You can do this." It was extremely cathartic to know that not only am I not alone, but that other men and women aren't alone -- we all have each other. Even outside of rape culture, there are a lot of people silently in pain about extremely traumatic things.

The hardest part for me was the self-acceptance. There's an inability to acknowledge to yourself, "Not only did this happen, but I'm pretty f—ed up about it." And nobody knows how you feel. I didn't tell anyone [about my sexual assault] for years -- and I didn't tell anyone for years because I didn't tell myself for years. And my soul just burnt out until it was gone. And then you have to admit you were in pain, and that you died in a way, but you are in control to bring it back, and there are people in the world who'll help you.

Lady Gaga is 'One of the Best Artists I've Ever Worked With,' says Diane Warren

You broke down a few times recording.

Oh yeah, the whole thing. Me and Diane holding one another. The vocals on that record, I'm just crying the whole time. It was a moment I shared with another woman that I will never forget.

You're very close with Elton John. How has he influenced Born This Way?

He inspires me in ways I could not even begin to list properly. He is my friend, he is like a parent. He looks out for me, he was there for me during the hardest times in my life. He doesn't allow me to slip into depression without making sure that I'm OK. Everything he has done for AIDS, everything he has done for the LGBT community. He's just everything -- when I'm with him, I just want to help be a part of his genius plan to save the world.

To learn more about the Born This Way Foundation, go to bornthisway.foundation.

Related -- Lady Gaga gets philanthropic with Elton John
Lady Gaga Gets Philantrophic with Elton John
Read Full Story

From Our Partners