They’re talented, attractive, wealthy, and widely acclaimed. But neither fame nor fortune immunizes celebrities against the ravages of depression and mood disorders. Today, when a celebrity’s missteps can “break the Internet,” says Vasilis K. Pozios, MD, a forensic psychiatrist and entertainment industry consultant in private practice in Detroit, the resulting public scrutiny can provoke feelings of guilt, shame, and insecurity.
What’s more, celebrities often experience key risk factors for depression, including substance abuse, sleep disruption, unemployment, and highly variable work schedules, says Scott A. Langenecker, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and psychology and director of the cognitive neuroscience center at the University of Illinois in Chicago.
Here are some celebrities who’ve experienced depression and come out on the other side.
2 / 15 Kristen Bell
In an interview on YouTube’s Off-Camera Show, Kristen Bell told Sam Jones she takes medication for depression and anxiety. She also noted that her mother, grandmother, and other family members have had similar issues. Bell’s advice for dealing with depression and anxiety: Understand that there’s no shame in seeking help, including medication, for mental health conditions.
3 / 15 Lady Gaga: ‘I Still Suffer With It Every Single Day’
With her chameleon looks, “art-pop meets haute couture” wardrobe, genre-busting voice, and her new role in American Horror Story, Lady Gaga seems the very definition of courage and power. But that image belies a lifelong struggle with depression, she recently revealed to Billboard. “I’ve suffered through depression and anxiety my entire life,” she said. “I just want these kids to know that … this modern thing, where everyone is feeling shallow and less connected? That’s not human,” she told the magazine.
Feeling less connected takes a toll, says Dr. Pozios, even for people who seem to be connected because they’re active online. “The scrutiny that young people face on social media can lead to anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts,” he says.
Because of Gaga’s own struggles with depression and feelings of isolation, her mission is to help young people facing similar emotional struggles. Her Born This Way Foundation aims to empower youth and inspire bravery, and provides resources to help young people affected by bullying, abuse, and depression.
4 / 15 The Rock: Sharing a Message of Hope
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, 43, recently shared a hopeful message to inspire others who may be dealing with depression.
“I found that, with depression, one of the most important things you could realize is that you’re not alone,” Johnson said during an episode of Oprah’s Master Class on the OWN network. “You’re not the first to go through it; you’re not going to be the last to go through it … I wish I had someone at that time who could just pull me aside and [say], ‘Hey, it’s gonna be okay. It’ll be okay.’ So I wish I knew that.”
Johnson, the son of retired Canadian professional wrestler Rocky Johnson, experienced depression during his early twenties when his football career stalled. After graduating from the University of Miami, where he played as a backup defensive tackle for the Hurricanes, Johnson was passed over by the NFL. He then played for a Canadian football team, but was cut after two months. Johnson called this time of his life — during which he also lived in his parents’ basement — “a real low point.”
He left his football dreams behind and instead focused on a new career: wrestling. And the rest is history. Today, The Rock has a laundry list of accomplishments under his belt, including New York Times bestselling author, family man, and action star in the popular movie franchise The Fast and the Furious. Still, he hopes that people with depression don’t give up hope during dark times.
“Hold on to that fundamental quality of faith,” he said on Oprah’s Master Class. “Have faith that on the other side of your pain is something good.”
5 / 15 Sarah Silverman: Her New Movie Mirrors Life
She’s beautiful, sardonic, and razor-sharp on stage — and could probably wither you with a single glance. Actor, comedian, and writer Sarah Silverman’s latest role in the film I Smile Back brings her painfully close to her darker side, she recently revealed in Glamour. The movie focuses on a suburban mom whose life seems picture-perfect, but who is actually depressed and self-medicates with pills and alcohol.
Silverman said in Glamour that she herself has struggled with depression, and takes small doses of Zoloft (sertraline) to maintain her mental health without losing the highs and lows that fuel her creativity. “I wouldn’t wish depression on anyone,” Silverman said. “But if you ever experience it, or are experiencing it right now, just know that on the other side, the little joys in life will be that much sweeter.”
6 / 15 Cara Delevingne: Standing Up for Herself Now
Sultry Cara Delevingne became a highly sought-after supermodel in her teens, and now at 23, she’s an actor who has just wrapped seven films.
But as Delevingne’s star rose, she also struggled with depression, she says. At 15, she hit “a massive wave of depression, anxiety, and self-hatred,” she told Vogue this summer.She engaged in harmful behavior, took psychotropic medications, and saw therapists — none of whom, she said, were especially helpful.
In New York City, the London native would hit the party scene. “It rots your insides,” she said
7 / 15 Jon Hamm: Darkness Behind the Tall, Dark, and Handsome
Decades before Mad Men’s final episode aired, actor and star Jon Hamm, who played midcentury adman Don Draper, revealed that he had relied on antidepressants and therapy to relieve the chronic depression he’d experienced after the death of his father. Hamm was just 20, and 10 years earlier, he’d lost his mother to stomach cancer, he told The Guardian in 2010.
“Therapy … gives you another perspective when you are so lost in your own spiral … it helps,” said Hamm, who was also found relief with antidepressants. He said the medication can help change your brain chemistry enough for you to think, “I want to get up in the morning; I don’t want to sleep till four in the afternoon.”
In May 2015, TMZ reported that Hamm had completed a 30-day alcohol rehab stint at a facility in Connecticut.
Happily, Hamm’s revelations about depression and rehab have not resulted in the stigma successful people sometimes experience when they go public with their mental health problems. That stigma can prevent celebrities, and ordinary people, from getting the help they need to overcome depression, says Langenecker
8 / 15 Owen Wilson: Thriving After a Suicide Attempt
His 2007 suicide attempt devastated his friends, family, and fans. Though Owen Wilson’s screen persona was that of a loopy, lovable surfer dude, offscreen he was a complex man who, as People reported at the time, has dealt with addiction issues and relationship problems, notably his then breakup with actor Kate Hudson. Though Wilson has been silent on his treatment, press interviews done around the time of his newest movie, No Escape, suggest that his two young sons have grounded him and bring him great joy — even as his own father is coping with Alzheimer’s disease.
Most of us have to deal with professional and personal issues at the same time, but stars like Wilson have the extra burden of doing this in the spotlight. “Some celebrities struggle to balance their public and private lives. Their self-esteem may not necessarily be built upon their authentic self, and so may be fragile and contingent upon continued fame,” says Pozios.
9 / 15 Demi Lovato: Serious Help for Serious Problems
If you watched Demi Lovato singing her new song, “Confident,” on a recent Saturday Night Live episode, it would probably stun you to learn that just a few years ago, the former Disney star underwent a three-month-long residential treatment for anorexia, bulimia, and cutting.
“I never found out until I went into treatment that I was bipolar,” Lovato told People magazine in 2011. Bipolar disorder, AKA manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in energy, mood, and activity levels. It can also interfere with your daily ability to function, according to the National Institute for Mental Health.
As she recovered, this was less of an issue for Lovato. “I feel like I am in control now, where for my whole life, I wasn’t in control,” she told People.
Wayne Brady: Real Men Get Depression
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10 / 15 Wayne Brady: Real Men Get Depression
You’ll certainly be seeing a completely different side of funnyman Wayne Brady when he joins the cast of the smash Broadway hit Kinky Boots this November. Though winning the role of drag queen Lola — the lead character rocking the thigh high, red-sequined boots — is just the latest of this talented entertainer’s achievements, it’s by no means the most difficult challenge he’s faced.
In a video exclusive on People.com, Brady, who not long ago suffered a breakdown on his 42nd birthday, talked about his lifelong struggles with depression. One of the biggest problems with being a man who has depression, he says, is that it’s almost taboo to talk about it.
“What kind of man would I sound like if I told somebody, ‘Hey, I am so sad. I’m cripplingly sad. I can’t get out of bed. I just feel empty. Help me,’” he told People. “You feel like you need to cry or speak to someone about it, and, ‘Nope, I’m not gonna do that, because I’m a man,’” he said.
Kerry Washington: Depression Is Something to Talk About
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11 / 15 Kerry Washington: Depression Is Something to Talk About
Long before her must-watch starring role in the ABC hit show Scandal, Kerry Washington was turning heads with her roles in movies like Ray and I Think I Love My Wife. But before those successes, she lived through dark days, suffering from what she described to Essence magazine in 2009 as an abusive relationship with food and exercise during her college years.
“I used food as a way to cope — it was my best friend,” she recalled. She’d eat until she sometimes passed out, then would head to the gym to exercise for hours on end. “Keeping my behavior secret was painful and isolating. There was a lot of guilt and shame,” she told the interviewer. Luckily, her dance teacher intervened, and Washington began years of therapy.
Recently, she joined forces with First Lady Michelle Obama and Sarah Jessica Parker to call attention to issues affecting veterans, including PTSD. “I think it’s really important to take the stigma away from mental health,” Washington told Glamour this past spring.
12 / 15 Sheryl Crow: It’s a Chemical Problem
Sheryl Crow: It’s a Chemical ProblemThere’s been plenty of drama in Sheryl Crow’s life. In 2006, at 44, her engagement to now-disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong ended, and just weeks later, the nine-time Grammy winner learned she had breast cancer, for which she’s been successfully treated. But as she revealed to the Daily Mail two years later, Crow spent part of her twenties deeply depressed.
“At its worst, there was a six-month period … when I couldn’t dress, days I couldn’t leave the house. Antidepressants helped and so did therapy, but depression is a chemical thing that some people go through. It’s always been part of my life,” said Crow in the Daily Mail story.
According to Langenecker, depression is indeed related to brain chemistry. “Depression is always, in some ways, a disruption in brain chemistry, which can result in negative distorted memories, low energy, or a withdrawal from positive social relationships,” he says.
Now the mother of two little boys, Crow lives happily on her 50-acre Nashville ranch, reported Good Housekeeping magazine last year.
13 / 15 J. K. Rowling: Dark Thoughts Inspired the Dementors
Before author J.K. Rowling became a household name, she was a nearly penniless single mother who wrote her first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, while her infant daughter slept beside her in cafes. Her next Harry Potter book was published a year after the first, and she followed it with bestseller after bestseller. But as she was writing that first book, Rowling was dealing with more than poverty.
Depression engulfed her, she admitted in a 2012 interview in The Guardian. She even used her dark, suicidal thoughts as the inspiration for the Dementors, the hooded creatures that feed off human — and wizard — happiness.
14 / 15 Dark Side of Comedy: Trevor Noah and Neal Brennan
On a recent episode of The Daily Show, host Trevor Noah (left), 32, interviewed Chappelle Show writer and producer Neal Brennan (right), 42, about his new comedy act 3 Mics. In the live one-man show, Brennan uses humor to discuss many topics, including his battle with depression. “A lot of the time, comedians don’t talk about, I guess, the dark side of comedy and in your show what really connects with me is you talk a lot about depression,” Noah says at the start of the interview.
“And the thing that I didn’t know, like when I sent you [Noah] the show, you’re like, ‘oh I didn’t know you have depression, too,’ ” Brennan says.
Brennan says he’s had depression for a long time and has tried many different depression treatments, including ketamine, about five different medications, and transcranial magnetic stimulation, a non-invasive procedure that stimulates the brain’s nerve cells with short magnetic pulses. Brennan says that TMS treatment was most effective for him.
“You know what’s funny about it [depression] is people go, if you’re depressed you can’t smile, if you’re depressed you can’t tell jokes, but as comedians that’s like the one thing most comedians share is that monkey on the back of depression,” Noah says.
Excellent resources for depression care exist — but many people still don’t use them because they may not recognize the symptoms of depression, explains Langenecker.
“Understand that depression is different from simply ‘feeling sad,’— when you’re sad, people can usually cheer you up. When you’re depressed, that may not be an option. Just being with someone, letting them know you’re there for them, can be a powerful way of showing that you care,” he says.