Kristen Bell on depression: “There was something intangible dragging me down”
October 4, 2017
Following her rise to stardom as the iconic teenage detective in the TV series Veronica Mars, Kristen Bell has made a successful leap to the big screen in a number of successful comedies like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Couples Retreat (2009), The Boss (2016) and Bad Moms (2016).
Most of Bell’s characters have cemented the image of her as witty, cheerful and positive. She and her husband Dax Shepard, who have two daughters together, are one of the cutest couples in Hollywood.
In recent years, however the much-adored actress has opened up about the fact that her extremely likeable personality also has a fragile side to it.
Clouded over by anxiety and depression
Fortunately for Bell, who was first hit by a bout of depression while studying at NYU, her mom had sat her down at age 18 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.”
Her mother, a nurse, was well-aware that serotonin imbalance which caused a lot of suffering for her own mother, Bell’s grandmother, could have been passed on to her daughter as well.
“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,” Bell recalled the first time she experienced the crippling effects of depression.
“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,” Bell wrote in article published in Time’s Motto.
Revealing her struggle to reach out to others
Living in the image-obsessed world of Hollywood where celebrities are expected to live flawless lives, it took some time before Bell opened up about her battle with anxiety and depression.
“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,” Bell wrote about her decision.
“I’ve been striving to compensate a little bit for this person that I’ve presented because I don’t think it’s fair to people who suffer to pretend that I don’t. I don’t think it’s fair for them to look at me and go: Oh yeah, I would be happy, like she is happy, because she has all this. I think it’s very important to be honest,” she explained on Off Camera.
Indeed, Bell’s story underscores the fact that depression and anxiety can be experiences by anyone, no matter what their life circumstances are.
“I present this very cheery, bubbly person but I also do a lot of work. I do a lot of introspective work and I check in with myself and I need to exercise and got on a prescription when I was really young to help with my anxiety and depression.”
“I’ve never really shared what got me there and why I’m that way or the things that I’ve worked through. And I felt it was sort of a social responsibility I had — to not just appear to be so positive and optimistic,” Bell said in an interview for Today.
“It’s a priority to reach people who might be struggling with similar issues that I’ve struggled with. I just wanted other people to know there are options out there if they feel a sense of depression or anxiety,” she added.
Shattering the stigma of mental health issues
Bell has also been vocal about the absurdity of the stigma attached to the topic of mental illnesses.
“I got on a prescription when I was really young to help with my anxiety and depression and I still take it today,” she said. “And I have no shame in that because my mom had said if you start to feel this way, talk to your doctor, talk to a psychologist and see how you want to help yourself.”
Yet both her and her mother were well-aware that unfortunately that was not the prevalent attitude.
“She said, ‘If you do decide to go on a prescription to help yourself, understand that the world wants to shame you for that, but in the medical community, you would never deny a diabetic his insulin. Ever.
But for some reason, when someone needs a serotonin inhibitor, they’re immediately crazy or something!”
Bell emphasizes that there’s nothing weak about struggling with depression and anxiety. Quite the contrary.
“You’re just having a harder time living in your brain than other people,” Bell explained.
“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?,” Bell pointed to the facts.
Bell has also wisely suggested that mental health check-ins should be as routine as going to the dentist.
“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.”
“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,” Bell summed it all up.
Feeling better with exercise and meditation
On top of checking in with the doctor as needed, Bell is also a fan of two activities which are known to help curb anxiety and depression: exercise and meditation.
To keep it fun, Bell tries to make exercise part of her time off, rather than making it into a separate obligation.
“I like to keep moving whenever I can. And this is better than just sitting on the couch for an hour, right?… My friends and I are all into staying in shape through outdoor activities. We play Ultimate Frisbee, hike the trails around Los Angeles, go rock climbing in Malibu, explore underwater caves in Palos Verdes. We’re gluttons for excitement, and it keeps us fit!”
Her approach to fitness is also good for the environment, as she and her family are often seen biking around Los Angeles.
“We do that for pleasure, fitness and the environment. We love to be out of the car, and luckily, there are a lot of restaurants we can bike to for dinner. You feel a little better about dessert if you moved a bit to get to it,” she explained.
Just before their first child was born, Bell and her husband Dax Shepard also learnt Transcendental Meditation.
“It’s a little brain massage. You know, like you need a shoulder massage? I think we underestimate how often we need to slow down and get a brain massage,” Bell described the effects of the technique with a witty metaphor.
“Meditation makes me feel more rested than a full night’s sleep,” Bell explained. “I really enjoy powering down for 20 minutes because it’s like shutting off light switches in my brain. I should make more time for it, but meditating even a couple times a week makes a big difference in my stress and happiness levels.”
Sometimes, Bell admitted, she and Dax even hold hands while they meditate. “We nauseate ourselves with how mushy we are. It’s a wonderful way to connect,” she gushed.