Whenever he gets the chance Zachary Levi is ready and willing to talk about the importance of bringing mental health and illness out of the shadows. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” he told fans attending a recent New York Comic Con convention.  Levi believes that to destigmatize mental illness “we need to be talking about it all the time,” he said.  And we need to make mental health and wellness as important as our physical well-being.

His desire to elevate the national conversation about mental health comes out of his personal experience. Although he’s vocal now, not so long ago he wasn’t comfortable or perhaps wasn’t ready to share his struggles. Dealing with depression “is really, really tough,” he said describing how he went through “some of the darkest depression. I mean suicidal where I didn’t want to live.”

The suffocating darkness descended on him around 2015 with the death of his mother, his divorce after less than a year of marriage and some professional disappointments.  Still, as he told the British magazine square mile, he didn’t reveal or deal with his issues and depression for a long time. “Ultimately I found myself with nothing left a year later. Just so gnarly. It was like, ‘I’ve got to go take care of myself.’”

He was 37 when he decided to “figure out why I was unhappy—and I was, I was super unhappy…and…at the root of all of it, was that I never learned how to love myself. I never understood what it was to value my own life,” he told the magazine.

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Therapy, meditation, and prayer helped him tremendously he says. He has therapists in Los Angeles “and people I use when I’m not in LA,” he said during an appearance on ABC’s The View on April 5th. Through therapy, he learned to have compassion for his mother. “My mom was a beautiful, vibrant, intelligent, incredible woman who was also very tortured and psychologically abused her whole life,” he said. “And therefore my sisters and I got the brunt of that.  My mom didn’t know she was doing that to us,” he said.

Just before he landed the lead in Shazam!, Levi spent three weeks an in-patient facility in Connecticut. As he told square mile, while there he learned to be kinder to himself. One of the therapists told him, “You wouldn’t talk to your friends the way you talk to yourself. So knock it off.”  Compassion for himself was something new.

Speaking Parts

Over the past few years, more and more famous folk have come forward to talk about their mental health issues. Recently singer Bebe Rexha opened up about her severe anxiety and Taraji P. Henson revealed she suffers from depression.  Kristen Bell, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Demi Lovato, Britney Spears and Prince Harry (who we just learned is producing a documentary about mental health with Oprah Winfrey) have all dealt with mental health issues. Olympian Michael Phelps and other athletes have come forward to talk about living with anxiety and depression. Eight years ago this month, Catherine Zeta-Jones shared that she was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. A year ago in an interview with People magazine, Mariah Carey spoke about her bipolar II diagnosis that she’d kept secret for years fearing she’d be ostracized.

Along with the fear of being stigmatized and socially ostracized, people with mental illness have to face those awkward “reveals” to coworkers, family, and friends “We don’t know how to have a conversation about mental health in our daily dialogue,” says Katrina Gay, National Director of Strategic Partnerships, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).  And when people don’t know what to say or how to respond, they often end up avoiding having the conversation at all, says Gay.

Gay believes that when celebrities share their personal stories and show that they are unashamed, their honesty helps move the dialogue forward and spark discussion that further moves the needle towards a better understanding of mental illness and mental health in general. Change is happening in “a unique way, one person, one fan at a time.” says Gay.

Zachary Levi is one person with many fans who is clearly making an impact. Since its April 5th opening his blockbuster Shazam! has ruled the box office. At every stop on his press tour for the movie, Levi has raised the subject of mental health awareness and education and has no plans to stop.

At 38, he’s now healthier and stronger than he’s ever been. And more compassionate. “We have to be able to stop dehumanizing each other, stop dehumanizing ourselves, we have to love one another, we have to be patient and kind and understanding and forgiving because that is the way we all get back to a better world.”

 

 

Last Updated: Jul 23, 2019