While there have been some great strides in mental health awareness and a growing acceptance of therapy, when it comes to normalizing other mental health treatments, there is still a long road ahead. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2020, among the 52.9 million adults with documented mental illness, only about 46 percent received mental health services in the past year. While it’s good that almost half of those people were able to access important mental health treatments, there’s still a large swath of the population that has not gotten the mental health help they need.
The stigma surrounding mental health treatments beyond what you can do for yourself at home—like exercise, diet, and mindfulness—may be one reason people are reluctant to try things like medication. Kristen Bell found herself in a similar position before she made the decision to take medication for her depression and anxiety. Now, she’s decided to share that with the world in the hopes that it helps to normalize all the avenues available for people to support their own mental health—including with medication.
Well+Good sat down for an exclusive interview with Kristen Bell to talk about why she’s teaming up with Hers, and her decision to share her own mental health medication journey.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Well+Good: Why is taking care of your mental health important to you?
Kristen Bell: Oh wow, because it is the foundation of my well-being. It affects everything else because, for me, mental health is my nucleus. My mental health affects every single other experience I have on this planet. It affects my social life, my work life, my parenting, my sleep, and my appetite. So it’s really my number one priority to take care of first so I can then do everything else in my life.
W+G: You have such a positive reputation as a bright, bubbly, talented actress. How does this play into your own mental health journey? Do you ever feel a lot of pressure to live up to this perception?
KB: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. What’s strange is I felt like I had to be this bubbly person forever until my husband [Dax Shepherd], who is kind of addicted to honesty, challenged me to be a little bit more authentic publicly. And it was the best decision I’ve ever made. When I chose to start talking about my struggles with anxiety and depression and how I’m not always this bubbly person, and how sometimes it’s fake, it was a huge relief. A weight off my shoulders.
“I really, really feel like when I got over the stigma of mental health in my life, and I stopped hiding the fact that I take medicine for it or that I go to therapy, or that I’ve had bouts of depression or anxiety—I just felt more empowered.”
W+G: What was the response that you got when you decided to be more open?
KB: The response I got was incredible because I heard people saying, “thank you for talking about it. I never thought I could, now I’m gonna seek help.” I know that wasn’t my doing, but what I recognized really quickly is that anyone with a microphone has the power to affect someone else’s life.
I really, really feel like when I got over the stigma of mental health in my life, and I stopped hiding the fact that I take medicine for it or that I go to therapy, or that I’ve had bouts of depression or anxiety—I just felt more empowered. And I realized how comical it was that, we, as humans hide certain aspects of ourselves. And that inhibits people from feeling good. Like, that doesn’t make any sense to me. So I wanted to stay a part of the conversation.
W+G: What did it feel like to start opening up about your mental health?
KB: Well, initially, I never even thought to tell anyone that I struggled with anxiety and depression other than, you know, my partner. First, being more open and honest felt a little bit like cracking a glass shield around myself. I was feeling like, “Uh oh, should I do this? What will people think of me?”
But then I decided, why do I care what people think of me? I should care what I think about myself when I look in the mirror. And, at the end of the day, I feel better when I’m being honest and communicative because I think vulnerability begets vulnerability, and it brings you closer to people.
When you have a bunch of people in a room trying to be perfect for each other, no one has any intimacy. But when you’re sharing stories about struggles, you feel closer to people—and I like feeling close to people.
W+G: What were some ways that you made an effort to be more honest and open about your mental health?
KB: So, in the beginning, it wasn’t an announcement; it was never an announcement like, I have something to tell you, “I’m on medication,” or “I’m seeking help for anxiety and depression.” It was simply plugged into parts of conversations I would have with friends when I made the decision to be more authentic and more responsible about representing who I was.
The first few times felt weird. But then, saying it to my parents or my close friends, it started to feel normal after the first few times, and then I thought, wow, I have no more shame about this. People know this about me. Nobody stopped loving me. And then I felt much better.
W+G: People talk a lot about self-care, but medication can still be a ‘taboo’ subject; why do you think that is? Is this part of why you decided to talk about your journey?
KB: Because there’s this [unwarranted] weakness associated with it, which I just think is hot bologna, because I’m like, do we live on earth together? We share the same planet, right? Well, this planet’s a fucking mess. So, of course, you’re gonna be sad or struggle sometimes, and sharing resources when you’ve had an experience is how you get closer to people and, potentially, how you can feel good about yourself.
So I’ve shared that I’ve had to be intentional about getting exercise and getting out into nature. There are many self-care habits I have to do every single day, and I would do those things every day and still not get better. I was seeing a therapist when I still wasn’t getting relief, so I saw a psychiatrist, and I received a medication that worked for me.
And that was so great for me.
I still do all of those other things for my mental health, I have a huge toolbox, and I think this campaign that I’m doing with Hers is important to me because, for some reason, people are okay about, say, going on a walk, getting in nature, eating better, and exercising. But we still have a little bit of a hangup about people who have to take medication, and I don’t believe anyone should feel less than if they, under a doctor’s supervision, require medication to feel better.
W+G: Did you feel any hesitation about taking that medication step? Was there anyone that helped?
KB: My mom, who’s a nurse, said this to me because she’s also on an antidepressant, “You know when you take yours, I don’t want you to feel any shame because it’s affecting your brain physically. Would you ever shame someone with diabetes about taking their insulin?” That’s the comparison I needed. Because, of course not—I would never look at someone with diabetes and say, oh, just process this sugar, you’ll be fine.
W+G: What do you have on your horizon in terms of mental health goals or other things that you wanna prioritize in the coming year?
KB: What’s on my horizon is to maintain my own mental health, which always has to be a priority, and to continue to be open and honest with my kids about it. Because I want to create an environment where they don’t ever have to try to get over a stigma about anything. I want them not to know what the word “taboo” means. And that work starts with talking openly about anxiety or depression or other hard topics, like sex.
I’ve honestly never been reticent to share my story, but lately, I’ve felt that I should just show a good example for my kids and lead by example for others who might benefit from my story. That’s why I took this partnership with Hers because I think it’s really important to be an example. I want mental health tools of all varieties to be readily available for people and for people to know that. It’s hard to overcome something when you feel there’s nothing out there for you. If you have a problem and you see no solutions, that’s devastating. So if people can feel better from my sharing, then that’s worth it.