On relating to Kristen Bell’s mental illness disclosure

Last week Kristen Bell became the latest Hollywood star to mention that she’s not ashamed for taking medication for her anxiety and depression, and the news of her mental illness disclosure went viral. I’m grateful she used her fame to bring awareness to an issue that touches so many of us, but at the same time felt like I couldn’t quite relate, even though I’ve been affected by the same disorders.

Listen, I’m all for celebrities sharing their stories. They have platforms much, MUCH, bigger than mine, and the more people who open up, the better. The more attention we can draw to the cause, the better. The more we normalize mental illness, the better.

I guess I just can’t really relate to a celebrity. I’ve never met one myself, although I’d imagine most of them are down to earth. They are human, too, after all. Albeit humans with seemingly endless streams of money, and access to practically any doctor they would ever need to see. They experience mental illness the same way the rest of the population does, only with privilege. Many of them receive the proper diagnosis, effective treatment, and manage their conditions successfully.

On the flip side, no matter how much wealth and access to care they have, some we lose to suicide, like Robin Williams.

Now let me back up for a moment and acknowledge the fact that when I experienced my most serious battles with my mental illness, it was partially my privilege which allowed me to be able to get well. I recognize this.

What I’m trying to say is that to me, when a celebrity goes on camera and talks about having gone through a mental health issue, it’s not nearly as impactful as when regular people I meet through my advocacy work share their stories. It’s also not the same as a celebrity figure who has made a commitment to fighting the stigma surrounding mental illness by continually sharing her story – the way Demi Lovato has. There’s a big difference between mentioning the fact that you take medication for anxiety and depression, and making it part of your purpose in life to educate people.

Also, last time I checked Psychologists weren’t licensed to prescribe medication.

When I started this blog my goal was to simply inspire one person not to give up. To let her know that there is life after a mental illness diagnosis and multiple psychiatric hospitalizations. That the months spent crying and sleeping and barely eating because you’re so nauseous even the thought of toast turns your stomach, that all those months and maybe even years spent suffering could come to an end.

I truly believe finding other people’s stories online helped me to find my recovery path. Which is why when I found the right time to begin writing out my own story, I went for it. I knew that being anonymous wasn’t the answer. But at the time I felt a responsibility to my family when making the decision on whether or not to use my real name in my writing. My disclosure would affect them, too, after all.

Then, after eighteen months of blogging, I reached a point where my anonymous writing had reeled in a regular paid blogging gig for WhatToExpect.com, and I wasn’t willing to go on without receiving recognition for my work. I wanted to do my part to stand up to stigma, and I knew the best way to do that was come out of the closet about my mental illness. So I did.

And none of my fears came true. The fear of losing friends, of being discriminated upon, of being looked down upon. None. Instead, the response was the complete opposite.

Which is why I am such a strong believer in the power of storytelling. Yes, I come from privilege. But in our This Is My Brave shows there are plenty of people who have come forward to share their stories and they didn’t have the same access to care that I did. They still made it out of the darkness. Their stories are extraordinary.

The power behind sharing our stories lies in the ability to comfort others. In our country alone, one in five adults is living with a diagnosable mental illness. We are all affected by it, whether we realize this or not. Mental illness is mostly invisible, and because of both internal and external stigma, and the fear it instills in people, those suffering often times do not reach out for help. They feel isolated, like they are the only one who has ever dealt with that condition.

It’s not true. When we share our stories openly, people suffering in silence realize they are not alone. And they see that if someone like them was able to get well, they can too.

Which brings me back to my point about celebrities. Celebrities are people just like you and me. They’re human. But given the world they live in, my guess is that it’s hard for an average American to relate to their stories.

I urge you to visit our This Is My Brave YouTube Channel where you can view over 100 true, personal stories of overcoming mental illness from regular, everyday people. Teachers, students, small business owners, stay-at-home-moms, community service workers, and the list goes on.

This month, for Mental Health Awareness Month, we have five all-new This Is My Brave shows on the schedule. Our Greenville, South Carolina show was this past Thursday night and it was incredible. Our Iowa City show is this coming Friday night, the third annual DC-area show is this Sunday. And finishing out the month on the same date, May 19th, are our Chicagoland and Denver shows. All our new shows will be added to our YouTube channel this summer.

Deciding to share your own struggle with mental illness is a personal choice. It’s This Is My Brave’s goal to inspire people to #LiveBrave which means when you’re ready, and you find the right opportunity to share your experience with someone, whether privately or publicly, you will. Your ability to be brave will give the other person the comfort and solace they need to feel understood. We’ve seen it happen through our guest bloggers and our live show presentations. It’s life-changing and extremely powerful.

Whether you get that feeling from a celebrity talking about her experience, or someone you know and love in your life, the point is that together we can dissolve the stigma surrounding mental illness by sharing our stories.

LiveBraveIf you decide to #LiveBrave with us, we’ve designed an overlay you can add to your Facebook profile pic and Twitter profile pic. It’s easy, simply follow the instructions here: http://twibbon.com/support/live-brave

 

Comments

  1. Great article and I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts on relating to celebrities who have gone through mental illness. your organization is amazing and i am grateful you have allowed me and many others to share our stories. Keep up the great work!

  2. yes. we are lost in the crowd. we are only getting recognition from each other. i can’t deal with one more family member going out of their way to tell me how miraculous a star with my diagnoses is, but never once complimented me on what i have done, or even asks how i am doing.

    that is why i use sites like yours for my news instead of “the news.”. thanks jenn!

    • It’s unfortunate that people cannot recognize how far you’ve come, Joe. Your story is incredible to me, and I’m so proud of all you’ve accomplished as a writer, advocate and friend.

      • Ah yes, my hindsight is 20/20. I was just thinking about 5 or 6 years ago when no one was talking about mental illness. i am grateful for anyone that speaks up about it and anyone that believes in this cause enough to publish it. Thank you.

  3. Jeanne says:

    I admire everyone who speaks out and helps others to understand what living with mental illness is like. And all deserve acknowledgement although they don’t always get it – or in a way that is positive. A celebrity takes even more of a chance on it costing them work since there may be people who will judge them as difficult to work with. They are acknowledging the struggle to a much wider audience and that takes guts.
    It helps to de stigmatize mental illnesses and we’re all for that. I suspect Kristen Bell was nervous about revealing her struggles. Some states do allow psychologists to prescribe medication. Perhaps one of the This is My Brave artists will one day be performing on a national stage and thank TIMB for getting them comfortable with performing and talking about their talents and struggles.

    • Thanks for reading and sharing your feelings, Jeanne. I agree – whenever anyone opens up, whether they’re famous or not, it helps break down the stigma. But I don’t agree that a celebrity takes a greater risk when disclosing their illness. What about the single parent who decides to be brave and share their story? They’re risking much more than a celebrity with millions of dollars who could live off their fortune without working again if they had to. My point in writing the article was simply to say out loud that I’m all for celebrities opening up about their mental illnesses, but for me, the regular people I know from my community touch me on a much different and more profound level when they share their personal journeys with mental illness. The more society realizes that mental illness affects our neighbors, religious leaders, teachers, etc., the more people will support each other, ending stigma for good.

  4. I have suffered from anxiety and depression as has my mother and son. This past weekend I was at the International Bipola Society’s gala, and meet meany, fameous and not who told their stories and I was touched and moved by each of them and theor bravery for sharing. I have tried in my way to support removing the stigma from any kind of mental illness. Reading your blog I’m taken aback at your judgmental response to celebrities telling their stories and how their conditions affect them, and manybe less so because they are fameous. Sometime I think they are bravier than me, just a regular guy, because they have so many more people who will be happy to tell them how they fell, positive and negative. Their livelhood could be at risk, and once the story is out there is no changing your mind about sharing your story. The one thing I know for sure is that money cannot buy your health, it can make getting help easier, yes, but it cannot take away your illness. As you would like others to be commpassionate and empathic to you and your story, please try to reciporacate that to other, celebrities or not.

    • You’re right, Jill. And I appreciate that you’ve shared your feelings. I’ve been thinking a lot about my post, and feel I’ve had a change of heart. I’ve been wanting to write a response, to clarify that I definitely appreciate whenever anyone opens up about mental illness, celebrity or not. What I was trying to convey was that for me, personally, it’s hard to relate to a celebrity opening up about it. I agree with you – my post wasn’t written with compassion and empathy and I need to apologize for that. Thank you for calling me out. And thank you for sharing a piece of your story.

  5. I am so fascinated by your personal story and larger cause. I want to share my battles someday, too, but they are convoluted with so many layers that I’m still trying to distill it all — anonymously. If I understand correctly, that’s what you did for 18 months before going public?? If so, you are my brave.

    • Thank you, Robin. Choosing to disclose is a very personal decision, and you’ll know when the time is right to open up. Yes, I wrote anonymously for 18 months until I found my time to put my real name on my story. When I first started blogging, there were many people who wrote anonymously about their struggles and just reading their words was comforting to me. So know that even though you’re not ready to go public with your story, you are making a difference. I can tell from reading some of your blog that there likely will come a day when you’ll choose to open up. You have that advocate voice. :)

      • Thank you for responding to my comment. Your words give me hope that I’ll get there. I just need to be patient with this process. I’m defeating denial, but I am still trying to release many different emotions/traumas that got buried leading up to my bipolar diagnosis. I can relate to you because I was diagnosed after having postpartum psychosis. Now come to find out that, also like you, I started opening up about my journey anonymously. That route is working for me so far, but I know if i never attach my real identity to my illness that I am part of the stigma. That is a scary thing for me.

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