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Why I'm Talking About My Mental Health

Foreward

In this Issue:

  • Fall 2023
  • Addressing Anxious Times
  • America's Age of Anxiety
  • America's Mental Health Crisis
  • Five Myths About Mental Health
  • Mental Illness & Incarceration
  • Creating Mentally Healthy Workplaces
  • Kids and Teens Need Resilience
  • Nature & Mental Health
  • The Power of Shame
  • What Happens When You Call 988?
  • When the System is the Barrier
  • When You Don't Know You Need Help
  • Why I'm Talking About My Mental Health
  • View All Other Issues
Why I'm Talking About My Mental Health

They meant well.

I was a teenager and I didn’t feel good, so I talked to my internist. She put me on birth control pills, even though I was not yet sexually active. She meant well. She sent me to a psychiatrist—whom I could afford only because I had recently come into money as an actress on a TV show. I told the psychiatrist that sometimes I felt like I was going to die, like my heart was going to beat out of my chest, and I was going crazy. She put me on Xanax. That psychiatrist meant well.

No one thought to ask me what my home life was like as a child or what was going on in my home that very year: an unraveling of everything I had pretended was stable.

My parents meant well in their own way. The same way their parents, in the years after the Holocaust and the Great Depression, meant well. Yet when I was a teenager, everything started to collapse around me—but no one thought to ask me about that.

No one thought to ask if I was one of the millions raised in the shadow of intergenerational trauma because of war, poverty, and abuse. No one thought to ask if the grown-ups who were supposed to protect me instead frightened me. No one asked about fists thrown and promises broken and holiday dinners destroyed. And certainly, no one talked about those of us raised in homes where addiction reigned; where alcohol, drugs, and pornography were sources of confusion and endless battles; and where more “acceptable” addictions such as shopping, bingeing, and even restricting food in the name of beauty prevailed.

Because 30 years ago, we didn’t ask about those things. Doctors, meaning well, often tried to make everything OK with a little numbing. A little “taking the edge off”—that’s what my psychiatrist called it. She gave me a pat on the back as I walked out of her office clutching that piece of paper that was supposed to help even things out. Those were the days of knowing what to write to bill insurance companies and knowing which drugs could make us presumably hurt less.

Mental wellness was not something we knew to talk about or fight for. Finally, that has changed.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, many people experienced mental health challenges for the first time. Those of us raised with persistent challenges to our mental wellness, either because of trauma or stress in the environment or a genetic predisposition—or a combination of the two—were no strangers to anxiety, depression, insomnia, catastrophic thinking, compulsive behaviors, and incessant rumination. My partner, Jonathan Cohen, and I started a podcast (“Mayim Bialik’s Breakdown”) with the specific purpose of democratizing mental wellness. We had been in the trenches of mental health challenges as teenagers and were told in one way or another not to talk about it. Tuck it away, keep your chin up, take it like a man—they told us all of these things to keep it under wraps.

As adults, we consciously chose to seize the opportunity to be vulnerable in the service of those who were new to the world of mental health struggles. I have chosen to be vulnerable, raw, and brutally honest about what plagues me, what scares me, what ails me, what has worked for me, and also what hasn’t. We started our mental health podcast and built a community around the simple premise that access to mental health is an inalienable human right. Access to substantive, scientifically informed, compassionate mental health support is a right of every human being on the planet—no matter what kind of home you come from, how much money you have, what insurance you do or don’t have, and no matter what ails you.

What Jonathan and I have found is that sharing our own personal struggles is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of strength. We all want to feel better, live better, and experience more joy and less suffering. We cannot do this if we live shrouded in shame, secrecy, and a lack of understanding of the nervous system and how it operates and creates the spectrum of mental wellness.

I remember the fantasy I had as a teenager that one day I would meet “the man of my dreams” and start a new life and never have any problems. I would live happily ever after. While there have been tremendous joy and accomplishments in my life and I have much to be grateful for, I see myself as a relic from another time in the world of mental health. I come from an era of shoving it down, hoping it would go away, and stewing in anxiety, hopelessness, and fear. I am honored to be alive to witness a new consciousness that is taking hold in a world increasingly challenged by misconceptions about mental health and wellness.

My little slice of the mental health world as it evolves in the 21st century has given me so many reasons to be hopeful. The ability to understand ourselves has increased as more resources become available to more people everywhere. Mindfulness is being taught to young children in public schools. Inexpensive and readily available tools, from free meditation apps to vast online communities providing support and education, are at the disposal of more and more people. And we no longer have to live in shame about needing help.

And mostly, the notion that we all need and deserve more is no longer a fantasy—it’s the reality we are all living in and helping to create.

Mayim Bialik is an actor, writer, and neuroscientist who hosts “Jeopardy!” and the podcast “Mayim Bialik’s Breakdown.”    

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