Mayim Bialik is best known as the delightfully awkward character Amy on the hit series “The Big Bang Theory.” Today, the actress is using her influence to bring awareness to a topic that is still the face of great stigma, shame and discrimination.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 1-in-5 adults in the United States — 43.8 million, or 18.5 percent — experiences mental illness in a given year. This is a fact that Bialik knows all too well. “My family has a complicated mental health profile,” she reveals. “Name it and we’ve got it.”
Mental health is one of many issues Mayim explores on Grok Nation, an online platform that presents issues in an accessible, relatable and quirky fashion. “I have always reached out for help in my personal life for support in dealing with family and with my own mental health struggles. But now that I have a platform, I wanted to try and make more of a stance about it.”
Weight of stigma
Even though so many men and women face mental health issues, there is still a great deal of stigma associated with the topic. Bialik is actively working to change this.
“Being stigma-free means bringing to light things we have kept dark for so long,” she explains. “Stigma-free means acknowledging we struggle and showing the ways we cope so that we can still be present, functional and productive in our work, home and love lives.”
Bialik studied neuroscience at the University of California, Los Angeles. She maintains that her education helped shape her advocacy efforts and understanding of mental health. “I worked in child psychiatry for my thesis, and my training helped me have a broader understanding of the challenges to individuals who live with mental health challenges.”
Of these obstacles, the most notable is funding. Bialik believes that basic psychiatric and psychology services are non-negotiable. “The elite of this country have access to mental health care and that should be making everyone march in the streets,” she urges. In the United States, people with serious mental illnesses who are being treated in the public mental health system tend to have a shortened life span. On average, they die some 25 years earlier than the general population, outlines a report by the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors.
“It’s disgusting in a country with this wealth that we can’t help people who need mental health support,” says Bialik.
While access to medical care is a widespread issue, the lack of mental health services is particularly severe. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the country only has fewer than 140,000 mental health counselors.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This year, individuals are called on to share what life with a mental illness feels like for them in the form of words, photographs and video by tagging their social media posts with #mentalillnessfeelslike. Bialik explains, “We are as sick as our secrets. Speak up, get educated, and aim to be stigma-free.”
Her advice for the millions of men and women who are struggling with mental illness? “Know that if you didn’t cause it, you can’t cure it,” she urges. “Love the person, not the disease, condition or struggle.”