In a world where 350 million people suffer from depression, it’s hard to fathom why the illness could be brushed under the rug. But for public figures in the spotlight, facing the world with composure is often a higher priority than facing what’s going on internally.Icons whose faces have been splashed across magazines, newspapers and blogs often find it difficult to face the condition with the world watching, and for those who deal with it alone, it can be even harder to see a light at the end of the tunnel. However, just because there’s a struggle now doesn’t mean it’s impossible to find success. In fact, as the 12 inspiring public figures below prove, it’s not only possible to keep depression from holding you back, it’s also possible to be triumphant with it.
The famous astronaut who defied odds — and gravity — by landing on the moon alongside Neil Armstrong in 1969 struggled with depression and alcoholism after his inspiring feat. “I can’t recall ever sharing my pain with another male friend or confiding in anyone that I was struggling to hold life together,” he wrote in his book Magnificent Desolation. “At first the alcohol soothed the depression, making it at least somewhat bearable. But the situation progressed into depressive-alcoholic binges in which I would withdraw like a hermit into my apartment.”
After treating his depression and alcoholism, Aldrin went on to serve as the chairman of the National Association of Mental Health.
The former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback and current sports analyst faced battles off the field as well. The hall-of-famer has been public about his fight against depression after his diagnosis in the late ’90s. After being prescribed medication, Bradshaw was able to push through with the condition. “Depression is a physical illness,” he told USA Today in 2004. “The beauty of it is that there are medications that work. Look at me. I’m always happy-go-lucky, and people look at me and find it shocking that I could be depressed.”
The Grammy-award winning singer has been battling depression ever since she can remember — but despite her chronic struggle, Crow has managed to face the condition and continue to achieve thanks to antidepressants and therapy, according to Everyday Health.
It’s hard to imagine the bubbly entertainer battling dark thoughts, but early in her career, the comedian whose famous tagline is “be kind to one another” didn’t always receive that same kindness. After her character on her 1997 sitcom “Ellen” came out, DeGeneres received backlash in the public eye that left her mired in depression, W magazine reported. Despite her challenges, she told the magazine that ultimately she was grateful for the experiences that led her to where she is now:
I thought if I could find a way to be famous, people would love me. And then you get all that stuff and I worked really hard to earn all that and it sounds crazy, but I got the biggest, [most] wonderful blessing I could get, which was I lost my show, and I lost my entire career, and I lost everything for three years … But I got to learn how to sit back and watch other people and learn what judgment was and have compassion. And learn that not only was I strong enough to make it in the first place, but I was strong enough to come back and make it again. How lucky am I to have learned that? That took a lot. I wanted to crawl up in a ball and climb in a hole and hide forever; I was embarrassed. That’s why I look at it as a blessing.
He may have a charismatic persona on screen, but the actor struggled with depression that ultimately led to a suicide attempt in 2007. Since then, Wilson has recovered from the incident, and while he hasn’t spoken too much publicly about the experience, he’s still gone on to claim a meaningful career, including starring in recent notable films like “Midnight in Paris” and “The Internship”.
Touted as one of the most influential and inspiring presidents in American history, Lincoln battled depression and anxiety for years as he worked to unite a divided country. But as Joshua Wolf Shenk writes in The Atlantic, despite his struggle with mental illness, Lincoln still served as a great leader:
Throughout its three major stages — which I call fear, engagement and transcendence — Lincoln’s melancholy upends such views. With Lincoln we have a man whose depression spurred him, painfully, to examine the core of his soul; whose hard work to stay alive helped him develop crucial skills and capacities, even as his depression lingered hauntingly; and whose inimitable character took great strength from the piercing insights of depression, the creative responses to it, and a spirit of humble determination forged over decades of deep suffering and earnest longing.
The wildly popular author who dreamed up the magical world of Harry Potter has had millions of adoring fans since the first book hit the shelves in 1997, but her success wasn’t always smooth sailing. Rowling was experiencing clinical depression when she wrote the first book in the series. Crippled with financial troubles, her dark feelings became the inspiration for the novels’ evil dementors, the hooded, faceless creatures that have the ability to suck away humans’ happiness, she told Oprah in 2010.
Rowling sought professional help, but later faced overwhelming emotions of being in the public eye, returning to therapy in order to handle the pressure. “I had to do it again when my life was changing so suddenly — and it really helped,” she told The Guardian in 2012. “I’m a big fan of it, it helped me a lot.”
The Maryland politician made his struggle with depression part of his public story. Duncan, who was a former Maryland gubernatorial candidate and served as Montgomery County executive, told the Washington Post in April that he feels as though he’s “back to the real me” after receiving treatment for the condition.
The former second lady and author revealed in the late ’90s that she suffered from depression but made a full recovery. Gore sought medical treatment in order to deal with her illness, believed to be brought on by an almost-fatal car accident involving her son. “I know how important good mental health care can be because I personally benefited from it,” she wrote in USA Today. “When you get to this point … you just can’t will your way out of that or pray your way out of that or pull yourself up by the bootstraps out of that. You really have to go and get help, and I did. And I was treated for it successfully, I’m happy to report.”
The Academy-award winning actress told Good Housekeeping that she suffered from postpartum depression after the birth of her son, Moses, in 2006. “I felt like a zombie,” she said in the interview. “I couldn’t access my heart. I couldn’t access my emotions. I couldn’t connect. It was terrible.” After the urging of her husband, Chris Martin, Paltrow found the help that she needed through therapy and exercise.
Known for his sharp wit in the syndicated columns he penned for The Washington Post, the humorist also dealt with depression and manic depression (now known as bipolar disorder), which landed him in the hospital in 1963 and 1987. He detailed his struggle with the illnesses in a 1996 interview on “Larry King Live,” which generated more public interest than any show King had previously done. He went on to openly talk about his depression in a notable Rosalynn Carter Distinguished Lecture in Mental Health Journalism speech. Buchwald died of unrelated health complications in 2007.
The happy-go-lucky carpenter most famous for her pink tool belt and vivacious personality on ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” wasn’t always that way. While filming the show, Hemmis found herself sleep-deprived, but not because she wasn’t getting to bed on time. Her depression was causing extreme insomnia, episodes of binge eating and crying fits, according to People magazine. After seeing a doctor, Hemmis was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. She told the magazine that therapy and openly discussing the illness has helped her. “If I can help someone think it’s not so scary to talk about, it’s worth it,” she said. “It’s a part of who I am, and I am fine with that. I feel better than ever.
By Lindsay Holmes