When I was 18, my mom sat me down and said, “If there ever comes a time where you feel like a dark cloud is following you, you can get help. You can talk to me, talk to a therapist, talk to doctor. I want you to know that there are options.”
I’m so thankful for her openness on this predominantly silent subject because later, when I was in college, that time did come. I felt plagued with a negative attitude and a sense that I was permanently in the shade. I’m normally such a bubbly, positive person, and all of a sudden I stopped feeling like myself.
There was no logical reason for me to feel this way. I was at New York University, I was paying my bills on time, I had friends and ambition—but for some reason, there was something intangible dragging me down. Luckily, thanks to my mom, I knew that help was out there—and to seek it without shame.
When you try to keep things hidden, they fester and ultimately end up revealing themselves in a far more destructive way than if you approach them with honesty. I didn’t speak publicly about my struggles with mental health for the first 15 years of my career. But now I’m at a point where I don’t believe anything should be taboo. So here I am, talking to you about what I’ve experienced.
Here’s the thing: For me, depression is not sadness. 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.
There is such an extreme stigma about mental health issues, and I can’t make heads or tails of why it exists. Anxiety and depression are impervious to accolades or achievements. Anyone can be affected, despite their level of success or their place on the food chain. In fact, there is a good chance you know someone who is struggling with it since nearly 20% of American adults face some form of mental illness in their lifetime. So why aren’t we talking about it?
Mental health check-ins should be as routine as going to the doctor or the dentist. After all, I’ll see the doctor if I have the sniffles. If you tell a friend that you are sick, his first response is likely, “You should get that checked out by a doctor.” Yet if you tell a friend you’re feeling depressed, he will be scared or reluctant to give you that same advice. You know what? I’m over it.
Read more: John Green on Mental Illness: There is Hope
It’s a knee-jerk reaction to judge people when they’re vulnerable. But there’s nothing weak about struggling with mental illness. You’re just having a harder time living in your brain than other people. And I don’t want you to feel alone. You know what happens when I visit my doctor regarding my mental health? He listens. He doesn’t downplay my feelings or immediately hand me a pill or tell me what to do. He talks to me about my options. Because when it comes to your brain, there are a lot of different ways to help yourself.
We’re all on team human here, and let’s be honest—it’s not an easy team to be on. It’s stressful and taxing and worrisome, but it’s also fulfilling and beautiful and bright. In order for all of us to experience the full breadth of team human, we have to communicate. Talking about how you’re feeling is the first step to helping yourself. Depression is a problem that actually has so many solutions. Let’s work together to find those solutions for each other and cast some light on a dark situation.
Kristen Bell is an actress best known for Frozen, House of Lies and Veronica Mars. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two daughters.