A family history of depression, and some frank conversations with her own mother as a teenager, have convinced actor Kristen Bell that being open about mental health with our kids is the best way forward.
Vulnerability equals strength
A chat with Women’s Health broached this important topic again with Kristen recently. The magazine asked her how she’ll safeguard her own children’s mental health.
“Probably the same way my mom did with me,” she responded. “I’ll take notice if my kids are moody or struggling.”
“I’ll make sure our dialogue around the house is what it has been for a while, which is that vulnerability equals strength.”
The mum-of-two, who is married to fellow actor Dax Shepard, says the couple share their own mental healthcare approaches openly at home, and aim to model healthy habits to almost-3-year-old Delta and 4-year-old Lincoln.
“Whether it’s daddy who goes to AA or mommy who has mental health she has to check in with it. You have to talk about your vulnerabilities with no shame,” Kristen said.
The experts agree with this honest approach, with local organisation Children of Parents With A Mental Illness confirming clear, sensitive discussions using age-appropriate language help children to better understand and live with these kinds of challenges.
“It is common for parents to think it’s better to avoid talking to children about their mental illness, to protect them from stress and confusion. Yet research shows that when parents talk openly about their struggles, in language their child can understand, it actually helps the child to cope better,” a spokesperson for Children of Parents With A Mental Illness confirms.
A family history of depression and anxiety have ensured Kristen is extra-vigilant when it comes to addressing these issues and treating them promptly. Her grandmother suffered acutely from mental illness, which impacted the family dramatically, and made them aware of how important correct care and treatment is. It’s also helped Kristen to understand herself a little better.
“I struggled a lot with anxiety and depression”, Kristen revealed in an interview with The Off Camera Show.
“My mom sat me down when I was probably 18 and she said there is a serotonin imbalance in our family line and it can often be passed from female to female.”
“My grandmother was one of the first people they tested electric shock therapy on. She would lock herself in her bedroom and drink for two days. It was like food under the door and it was rough.”
Forewarned is forearmed
This experience made Kristen’s mum very determined to prioritise mental healthcare in future generations. Kristen said her mother explained the symptoms of depression and anxiety to her clearly, and this helped her get the help she needed, when she most needed it.
“It certainly affected my mom and broke her a little bit, but she’s a nurse and she had the wherewithal to recognise that in herself when she was feeling it. When I was 18 [she] said ‘if you start to feel like you are twisting things around you and you start to feel like there’s no sunlight around you and you are paralysed with fear, this is what it is and here’s how you can help yourself'” Kristen said in The Off Camera Show interview.
“I’ve always had a really open and honest dialogue about that, especially with my mom, which I’m so grateful for because you have to be able to cope with it.”
“I check in with myself”
While she seems chipper as all heck, Kristen says the reality is far more complex – and she has to constantly work on her relationships.
“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. I got on a prescription when I was really young to help with my anxiety and depression and I still take it today… I have no shame in that, because my mom had said to me ‘if you start to feel this way, talk to your doctor, talk to a psychologist.”
“I certainly feel no shame”
Kristen’s keen to stress that antidepressants are a necessity, and that we need to change our attitude to people who take this kind of medication.
“The world wants to shame you for [antidepressants], but you would never deny a diabetic his insulin, but for some reason when someone needs a serotonin inhibitor, they’re immediately crazy or something. It’s a very interesting double-standard that I don’t often have the ability to talk about, but I certainly feel no shame about.”
Husband Dax Shepard has had his own health struggles, but has also done the work to come out on top.
“He’s a wonderful father,” Kristen told CBS’s Sunday Morning. “He knows the value of things. He was an addict for many, many years, and he pulled himself out of it, and he’s been sober for 11, 12 years now.”
— dax shepard (@daxshepard) September 1, 2016
Turning things around
Stressing just how fraught things once were, a very honest and open Dax hopes that others might gain hope from his addiction battle and see that it’s never too late to change their life.
“I just loved to get f—ed-up — drinking, cocaine, opiates, marijuana, diet pills, pain pills, everything,” Dax said back in 2012. “Of course, come Monday I would be tallying up all the different situations, and each one was progressively more dangerous. I got lucky in that I didn’t go to jail.”
Fast forward to now and he’s 13 years sober, working hard on creating good times with his little family and generally winning at life.
“I have a rare opportunity to appeal to young guys thinking about sobriety,” he said admitting it took him “many, many, many attempts” before he came out the other side.
“I now have a wife and babies and some self-esteem,” Dax says.