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15 Famous People Who’ve Helped Demystify Depression

By Leslie

Not all famous people flit about as completely useless wads of silicone and botulism — many actually wield their clout as a tool for positive social change. 9.5% of American adults suffer from mood disorders, with 45% of these cases qualifying as severe. Despite their prevalence, however, society still sees fit to demonize and misrepresent the conditions and accompanying treatment options. Because it doesn’t seem to seriously care about what experts have to say, celebrities have to step in and educate the populace on depression mental health realities. Many of them actually know what they’re talking about, more often than not because of personal experiences. They bravely utilize such privilege as a pulpit for tearing away at the unfair myths perpetuating marginalization, giving back something worthwhile to the society that made them.

All of the stories here intentionally reflect a broad experience spectrum. Some individuals may not suffer from depression, but still play their part in dispelling falsehoods all the same. Some prefer working towards de-stigmatizing mental illness in general. Some felt suicidal; some required medication; some never even had to visit a psychology professional. Clinical depression and its co-morbid disorders manifest themselves in numerous destructive ways; every story differs in the details, but always rotates around an anxious, terrified and hopeless center. Each individual — famous or not — sharing her or his unique story adds yet another voice to the integral de-stigmatization movement. It puts a very real, very human face on suffering frequently tossed aside, even outright mocked, by the general public.

  1. Joey Pantoliano: No Kidding, Me Too is a movie, nonprofit and a movement fronted by The Matrix and Memento actor Joey Pantoliano. Although he suffers from ADHD and clinical depression, the organization’s main goals revolve around de-stigmatizing all mental illnesses. In order to encourage others to speak out about their psychological and psychiatric experiences, Pantoliano remains exceptionally candid about his own deeply personal struggles. Many individuals with depression will likely find something relatable in his myriad writings, videos and interviews.

  2. Winston Churchill: Former, famed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill referred to his mounting depression as his "black dog" — a term many of his fellow sufferers have appropriated over time. While his stressful political tenure was understandably pockmarked with exceptionally low episodes, most of the leader’s worst times settled in during the retirement years. Some theorize that Alzheimer’s or strokes may have hastened the issue, and many believe he may have actually been bipolar. Churchill’s memoirs chronicle these periods both eloquently and evocatively.

  3. Tipper Gore: Clinical depression, as with all mental illnesses, further (and unnecessarily) burdens its victims with social ostracism and crippling misconceptions. Tired of the general public’s ignorance, the former Second Lady appeared on 60 Minutes to discuss her experience. Along with host Mike Wallace — for whom depression also caused disruptions — she showcased the realities of therapy and medication. Although the latter does not always work for all patients, no shame should be attached to those finding it a viable solution.

  4. Glenn Close: Unlike many of the other famous faces listed here, Glenn Close herself does not suffer from any mental illness. Her sister, however, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and together they launched the Bring Change 2 Mind initiative. This nonprofit hopes to rework public perception and rhetoric against those with psychiatric disorders, instilling hope in those with everything from mild depression to severely catatonic schizophrenia — and all conditions between them.

  5. Ron Artest: When Lakers forward Ron Artest thanked his psychiatrist after winning the 2010 NBA championships, more than a few fans and commentators very unfortunately scratched their heads. He would then courageously go on to auction off his championship ring to further mental health awareness and de-stigmatization. Ever since his stint with the Houston Rockets, Artest has regularly visited a therapist, whom he credits as essential to overcoming anxiety and achieving professional success. Although he remains mum about the exact nature of what afflicts him, the basketball star certainly played an integral role in encouraging the depressed and others suffering with psychiatric disorders to seek help.

  6. Kurt Vonnegut: Creative types often channel their destructive emotions into lauded artistic works, and the iconic Kurt Vonnegut makes for a notable example. Following his 2007 passing, fans with clinical depression touched by his oeuvre paid tribute both online and in person, praising his up-front talks about what it all feels like. In 1984, he attempted suicide after Slaughterhouse-Five achieved success; Vonnegut himself lost his own mother to the condition. The incident ended up relayed in many of his fictional and nonfictional works, giving a voice to many who found themselves shamed and quieted by mainstream society.

  7. Woody Allen: This influential director has never shied away from talking candidly about his therapy, depression, anxiety and other mental struggles. In fact, Woody Allen attributes his entire film career — both the successes and failures — to the constant barrage of confusing negative emotions associated with the disorder. Writing, directing and starring in movies served as a welcome, creative distraction. The more he focused on productivity, the less he would on his own neuroses.

  8. Jon Hamm: As the world’s sexiest individual and lauded front man of the wildly successful Mad Men, most people would probably assume Jon Hamm enjoys a charmed existence. While grateful for his accomplishments, the actor never would have earned Emmy nods and a Golden Globe without intense therapy. Losing his mother at 10 and father at 20 left him misplaced, traumatized and lonely — and when combined with an unforgiving film career, eventually rendered life too much to handle. Regular psychiatrist visits and antidepressants made all the difference when Hamm thought himself "lost in [his] own spiral."

  9. J.K. Rowling: J.K. Rowling contemplated suicide before publishing Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, a gutsy admission for the author of a beloved young adult series. Like many of the other individuals listed here, she openly talks about depression and the accompanying self-destruction with the hope of inspiring and de-stigmatizing. Rowling credits her daughter with encouraging her to enter into mental health treatment with a GP, working through a horrific patch using cognitive behavior therapy.

  10. Brooke Shields: Depression remains a largely misunderstood mystery in today’s society, but postpartum depression grapples against these factors even more. Following the birth of her first child, model and actress Brooke Shields discovered herself crushed beneath the disorder’s full weight. Coming to terms with a frequently painful and unfairly dismissed condition inspired her towards activism, an experience she famously relayed on ABC News. Today, Shields educates childbearing women and their partners about postpartum depression’s harsh realities.

  11. Stephen Fry: BBC’s The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive may not be comedian, author and actor Stephen Fry’s first foray into mental health activism, but it’s probably his most high-profile. Bipolar disorder and depression — including a truly frightening incident involving a fugue state and international meandering — instill undue stress and suffering in the venerable Renaissance man. Rather than snap underneath the pressure, Fry has instead devoted much of his life to debunking mental health myths, misconceptions and stigmas through numerous media venues.

  12. Amy Tan: Family sits as a central theme of The Joy Luck Club and The Bonesetter’s Daughter, so it’s understandable that such a stimulus piqued author Amy Tan’s depression. While the former enjoyed critical success as both a novel and a film, all she could think about was death, hopelessness, despair and panic because of her mother’s Alzheimer’s descent. Both nature and nurture played a role in Tan’s mental health, as her mom also experienced temptations towards suicide (even homicide). Writing and jazz eventually proved far more therapeutic than psychological professionals — especially after one allegedly fell asleep during a session!

  13. Drew Carey: Hollywood isn’t exactly a friendly or forgiving place, and the popular comedian and actor found life there instilling overwhelming depression. Twice Drew Carey attempted suicide, once at 18 and again a few years later. Loneliness and anxiety over his career eventually led him down such a dark path, but he attributes reading to his eventual success and personal comfort. Self-help books especially provided Carey with enough inspiration and information to press forward.

  14. Sarah Silverman: Love her or loathe her, controversial comedienne Sarah Silverman deserves credit for adding another valuable public perspective on a frequently shamed medical condition. As with many of the famous folks here, she holds no qualms about discussing her depression and resultant antidepressant usage — even wringing humor out of painful situations. Silverman understands that medication doesn’t necessarily work for everyone, admitting she "really lucked out" on finding effective Zoloft treatment.

  15. Carrie Fisher: The former Star Wars siren once self-medicated with excessive alcohol and drugs to quell some of bipolar disorder’s (co-morbid with depression in this case) intensity. Originally diagnosed in her 20s, Carrie Fisher now undergoes electroshock therapy once every 6 weeks, and openly shares her experiences with the hopes of dispelling myths. Such treatments certainly meet their own fair share of hostility and mistrust from the general public thanks to media misrepresentation; for her, though, they do an excellent job of calming the symptoms.


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