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Sarah Silverman isn't ashamed to discuss depression. Here's why.

Silverman sheds her comedic persona in a performance that hits close to home.

Sarah Silverman isn't ashamed to discuss depression. Here's why.

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.


Silverman stars as Laney Brooks in "I Smile Back." Photo by Broad Green Pictures.

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.

Photo by Broad Green Pictures.

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.

You can watch my interview with Sarah Silverman below.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

via Anthony Crider / Flickr

Dozens of "White Lives Matter" rallies were scheduled to take place across America on Sunday. The events were scheduled in semi-private, encrypted chats on the Telegram app between Nazis, Proud Boys, and other right-wing extremists.

The organizers said the rallies would make "the whole world tremble."

However, the good news is that hardly any white supremacists showed up. In fact, the vast majority of people who did show up were counter-protesters.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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