Actress Kristen Bell was interviewed by Sam Jones for Off Camera recently and unexpectedly offered what has to be one of the most phenomenal perspectives a celebrity has given on mental illness.
You can't not like Bell. That would be like disliking puppies, or naps. But there's so much more to this star that the sunny disposition and bubbly personality we know her for. This, in itself, says something hugely important about mental illness. Appearances can be deceptive, and you often have to look a lot deeper to get the true measure of a person — celebrity or not.
Jones asked Bell what people who see her as nothing but a "good Catholic girl" are missing, and her answer was surprising and wonderfully frank.
"I'm extremely codependent," she began. "I shatter a little bit when I think people don't like me."
She went on to explain that this is why she tends to "lead with kindness" and "compensate by being very bubbly all the time," because it really hurts her feelings when she's not liked.
Bell admits that this is "not very healthy" and reveals that it's something she's been fighting against for a long time. She was a popular girl at school but "always nervous right under the surface that someone would reject me." As a result, she changed who she was "all the time" to be the version of herself she thought people wanted, and didn't realize all this until she was in her 30s.
For many people, mental illness can be a lifelong learning process. It's different than a non-mental illness, where you typically identify your symptoms, then get a diagnosis and a treatment plan without too lengthy a wait. Those who suffer from anxiety, depression and other types of mental illness can struggle for years — decades, even — before they even seek help for their condition.
Bell was lucky in that there was always an "open dialogue" in her home about mental health. When she was 18, her mom sat her down and told her there is a serotonin imbalance that runs in her family, which is often passed from female to female. In fact, Bell's grandmother was one of the first patients to receive electric shock therapy. Bell's mom told her, "if you start to feel there is no sunlight around you and you're paralysed with fear, this is what it is and this is how you can help yourself."
"You have to be able to cope with it," states Bell, who started taking a prescription for anxiety and depression at a young age and still takes it today (she's now 35.). As well as her meds, she does "a lot of introspective work", making sure she regularly checks in with herself to identify ways to improve her mental health and well-being.
Hearing Bell say that she has "no shame" in continuing to take her meds is so refreshing. We hear all the time about people taking anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication to get through tough times. Often, they're keen to point out that they're not taking the meds any more. Which is great, because it means they're no longer ill or have found other ways to treat the illness. Not often do we hear a celebrity say, "I've been taking depression meds for decades and I may take them my entire life."
Any positive conversation about mental illness has to be encouraged. Everybody's experience is different — the complexities of mental health mean that there's no one-size-fits-all approach. But Bell's perspective is particularly welcome, because she's so honest, so willing to own her illness, and so aware of the shame attached to taking drugs for mental health.
"You would never deny a diabetic his insulin, ever, but for some reason when someone needs a serotonin inhibitor, they're immediately crazy or something," she says. "It's a very interesting double standard that I don't often have the ability to talk about but certainly have no shame abut."
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