Thursday, August 16, 2018
Health

Kristen Bell, Chris Evans and what happens when celebrities talk about anxiety and depression

The interview is shown in black and white, as if to warn viewers of the serious business ahead. Bright, bubbly, Frozen actor Kristen Bell is sitting across from YouTube show host Sam Jones. The four-minute video starts in mid-conversation because the interview has been trimmed down into short, viral-ready clips.

"I'm extremely co-dependent," Bell says, "I shatter a little bit when I think people don't like me. That's part of why I lead with kindness and I compensate by being very bubbly all the time, because it really hurts my feelings when I know I'm not liked. And I know that's not very healthy, and I fight it all the time."

Bell reveals she started medication for her mental-health issues at a young age.

"I still take it today and I have no shame in that, because my mom had said to me, 'If you start to feel this way, talk to your doctor, talk to a psychologist, see how you want to help yourself,'" she continues.

The interview was posted in early April and picked up recently by celebrity news sites, just as intended. The sites wrote about Bell's admission not as gossipy tabloid fodder but as praise for her honesty. Beneath the articles, readers' comments are overwhelmingly positive. "I completely relate to her," one Facebook commenter wrote.

Reading this might make you feel a little ". . . so what?" And that's why it's significant: Celebrities admitting they struggle with depression is now non-news.

Mental-health issues have always been shrouded in stigma, despite data showing they affect about 18 percent of American adults. Because people tend to mimic the actions and opinions of celebrities they admire, interviews like Bell's make a small dent in that stigma. Add her small dent to that of actor Chris Evans who, while promoting himself as the unshakable Captain America, discussed his anxiety in Rolling Stone magazine.

Add those to the comments by Sarah Silverman, Lady Gaga, Jon Hamm, Gwyneth Paltrow, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Lena Dunham, Ryan Phillippe, J.K. Rowling, Jim Carrey and others, and you can feel the stigma shrinking. And you can see it in research.

In a survey conducted last year by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 35 percent of adults older than 26 said they believed seeing a mental-health professional was a sign of strength. But among younger people, 60 percent agreed getting mental-health help was the strong thing to do. Those ages 18 to 25 were far more likely to have already reached out for help: 51 percent had received some kind of mental-health treatment, including therapy and medication, compared with 37 percent of older adults.

"Years ago when Rolling Stone did a story on Bruce Springsteen, and he shared that he was in treatment for many years from depression and thoughts of suicide, I had an influx of young men calling for psychotherapy," psychologist and author Deborah Serani recently told Forbes. "His disclosure helped. . . along the lines of 'Hey, Springsteen was depressed, and he reached out for treatment. I can too.'"

That was the sentiment in reaction to Bell: Readers shared her interview alongside posts about their own panic attacks, struggles with medication and suicidal thoughts.

But occasionally, someone would point out an issue no amount of stigma-breaking can fix.

"Therapy helps, if you can get it. . ."

"How about 7 kids no money for food for heat for no lights no money for the kids lunch."

"I've tried medicine when I was young, but when I became of age I couldn't afford it anymore, I'm a poor folk, no insurance, so I just cope."

The cost of mental-health care is out of reach for many Americans. Last year, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that fewer than half of the 43.6 million Americans with mental illnesses are receiving treatment.

"We're seeing a shift in the stigma of mental health in emerging adults," said psychologist Anne Marie Albano, in a release regarding the ADAA findings. "But until we can improve access to mental-health care, it is unlikely that this generation will receive the support and care for a long-term change in mental well-being."

Perhaps the next wave of celebrity PSAs won't be about accepting the need for mental-health treatment, but advocating to make it easier to access.

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