Kristen Bell Wrote About Her Depression, And We Need To Talk About How We Talk About This
Whether you’ve recently confided in a friend, or you’ve found new sisterhood with a celebrity you can relate to, we need to talk about how we talk about depression. Actress Kristen Bell recently announced her experience struggling with depression and anxiety, and while I feel her on a deep level, the news saddens me. What bothers me the most is that the news made international headlines in a way that satisfies many of our voyeuristic tendencies.
Bell penned an essay for Motto about her picture-perfect upbringing and home life — from her ambitions to her friends, everything was cut out for her. Until the “dark cloud,” with which those struggling with depression are all too familiar, began to follow her around.
“Here’s the thing: For me, depression is not sadness,” she wrote. “It’s not having a bad day and needing a hug. It gave me a complete and utter sense of isolation and loneliness. Its debilitation was all-consuming, and it shut down my mental circuit board. I felt worthless, like I had nothing to offer, like I was a failure. Now, after seeking help, I can see that those thoughts, of course, couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s important for me to be candid about this so people in a similar situation can realize that they are not worthless and that they do have something to offer. We all do.”
So, that’s beyond refreshing. I commend the shit out of her for coming forward and empowering others to seek the help they deserve, but let’s talk about this “coming out of the closet” party when disclosing mental illness, similar to the way the media treated Bell’s coming out of sorts.
According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, almost 62 million Americans (or one in four) experience a brush with mental illness each year. That’s someone you know. Someone who delivers your mail. Someone who once tucked you in at night. To report each incident of mental illness in the news in an inflammatory, sensationalized light inadvertently perpetuates the stigma. Just scroll through the comments section on any given piece, and through the words of solidarity, you’ll see a commenter Just Not Get It, and be like, “But their lives are so perfect. I don’t know why they’re sad!!!”
If mental illness is truly a disease and not something you choose (and it is a disease, please don’t refute me on that or I will have to take this kitty litter next to me, light it on fire, and leave it at your doorstep), then reporting on it in a tabloid-like fashion “others” celebrities further and “others” readers who also need help.
In April, Teen Mom OG star Catelynn Lowell was released from treatment for mental health issues, MTV News reported. Lowell thanked her supporters, but ultimately requested “some privacy at this time.” Not speculating here (or maybe I am speculating here), but live and let live, you know?
While yes, I do think it’s not only important, but vital to tear down walls preventing us from speaking about mental illness in a candid manner, remember: these are people’s lives we’re talking about. It can be overwhelming to experience these complicated, sensitive emotions, only to feel the weight of the media microscope asphyxiating you further. Not to mention, some organizations do a dismal job of conveying what it’s like to have mental illness (not going to name names), and that’s pretty triggering and does more harm than good.
While mental illness does fall under a clinical spectrum, feelings are hard to qualify, clarify, and justify. So if you’re writing about the topic from a very detached lens, think about how isolating that might feel for a reader going through the very thing you’re grappling to characterize. And if you know someone who’s going through a tough time, they don’t only need your think piece — they need your love and patience.