Sarah Silverman isn't ashamed to discuss depression. Here's why.
Silverman sheds her comedic persona in a performance that hits close to home.
I recently had the chance to interview Sarah Silverman to chat about her latest film.
The movie is called "I Smile Back," and it's a dark, powerful, honest story about a woman struggling with addiction and depression.
Silverman — for those who may not be familiar — is an Emmy-winning, Grammy-nominated comedian and actress. When I was offered the opportunity to interview her about the topics covered within the film, I jumped at the chance.
Here are three things I learned in my interview with Silverman.
1. She's been getting a lot of press lately for opening up about depression. But she's actually been open about it for a long time.
Just a few weeks back, Glamour published a deeply personal interview with Silverman in which she gave some really specific details about her struggle with depression.
But really, she's been really open about her relationship with depression for more than a decade.
In a 2005 interview with Slate, Silverman even spoke openly about her depression and treatment plan, which included a prescription for Zoloft.
"I went through [severe depression] from 13 to 16. Then, when I was 22, it hit again really hard. So when I was 23 or 24, my mom and her sister, who's a psychologist, talked to me about [seeking treatment] ... I go to this psychiatrist every six months, like you're supposed to, to make sure you're on the right track. I've mentioned to him, like 'I feel great, I feel so stable. After all these years, I wonder what it would be like to be free of it, this medicine.' And he's like, 'Why? If someone has diabetes, they don't say, OK, let's see what it's like to not take insulin.'"
10 years later, she told me that Zoloft, along with therapy, continues to be the treatment path that works best for her.
2. She prepared for this dark role by using her own personal experience and the experiences of people around her.
Her character in "I Smile Back" is very different from any of her other on-stage and on-screen personas, so I asked about how she emotionally prepared for the role.
"I had certain parts of myself to use as a resource," she told me. "I have my own relationship with depression and anxiety. ... I had a lot of really great, open, loving resources."
3. She's a firm believer in personal growth and self-improvement.
Many people know Silverman first and foremost as a comedian — and a controversial one at that. Her jokes have tackled some really taboo topics like race, religion, and sexual assault in ways that sometimes resulted in her being on the receiving end of some backlash.
But she's not being offensive for offensiveness' sake.
"I'm a comic that offends people sometimes," she tells me. "I don't mean to, but that's just a part of it. I make my own choices, from my own gut, what my insides feel like, what I feel is funny, what I want to say, and whether I feel good about saying that or not. If I feel bad in my gut, I don't say it."
She went on to discuss how she moved on from saying "That's so gay" to describe something as being uncool. "Is it that hard to change with the times? It took about a day and a half for me to find new words for 'gay.'"
In a 2012 interview with WebMD, she opened up about the balance her growth personally and professionally.
"I don't think that the pain is something you have to maintain as a kind of fuel. Some comics may think that way, but I'll take happiness over a really dark, good, angry joke. I think it's worth trying to find happiness or be less miserable. Also, because if you don't keep growing as a person, you can't grow as a comedian. And then you're just kind of the same. Either you don't find success or you become a caricature of yourself."
She gave a bit of a summary of growth in that Glamour article, too, saying, "My stand-up has evolved along with me, from the dumb, arrogant vessel I used in [past shows]."
So, why does it matter that Silverman's so open about her depression? Because there's still a *lot* of stigma.
There's some major stigma that surrounds anything to do with mental health. A 1996 National Mental Health Association survey found that 54% of people "think of depression as a sign of personal or emotional weakness." A 2002 survey found 17% of people "see taking medications (for problems with emotions, nerves, or mental health) as a sign of weakness. In 2004, a study found that 15% of respondents "see therapy as a sign of character weakness."
The only way to fight stigma is to speak out, and to see someone as successful as Silverman embrace her relationship with depression can do a lot to help change public opinion.