Malin Akerman is recognized for her roles in 27 Dresses, The Heartbreak Kid, and Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle — but prior to becoming an actress, Akerman had an alternate plan.
“[Children’s mental health] has been a long-standing interest of mine,” Akerman tells Shape. “In university, I actually studied psychology to pursue a career as a child psychologist, and that never materialized, but here we are,” says the actress. She recently joined forces with On Our Sleeves, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing resources and tools to destigmatize conversations about children’s mental health. “I feel like this has always been a significant problem, and now more than ever,” she adds.
Akerman comprehends the significance of discussing mental health within families based on personal experience. “My mother has struggled with bipolar disorder her entire life,” shares Akerman. “As a child, growing up with a mother who was depressed and not discussing or comprehending it was very bewildering.”
At that time, there weren’t as many resources or opportunities to openly address mental health, she explains. “I wish we had an open dialogue about it; I wish she had the means to talk about it back then,” says Akerman. “We could have sought support, and I would have had someone to lean on. That idea stayed with me,” she adds.
Now, Akerman and her mother are able to openly discuss mental health. “She is working on it, and it’s wonderful, and there’s no longer a stigma attached,” she explains. “But it was difficult to break the ice between us and initiate these conversations and acknowledge the impact it had on our relationship. We have truly come together and healed.”
By eliminating the stigma surrounding conversations about mental health issues, individuals have the opportunity to realize they are not alone, and the contribution of this is immense for both adults and children. “We all seek acceptance within groups and desire to be a part of something — that’s human nature,” says Akerman. “When you start discussing mental health and someone else says ‘oh, me too’ or ‘my mom too’, then suddenly it becomes normal,” she continues.
“You don’t feel like an outsider,” Akerman adds. “You don’t feel like there’s something amiss with you. It’s part of the conversation; it’s part of life, and there’s nothing negative about it,” she states. “Because when anybody — kids or adults — feel like they are outsiders or not ‘normal’, whatever that may mean, it becomes incredibly challenging,” she adds, expressing her delight in witnessing the breakdown of the stigma surrounding mental health.
As a mother herself, Akerman has observed progress in the societal acceptance of mental health issues. “I have a son, and he is very expressive about his emotions and talks about them openly and freely, and it’s incredibly heartening to see,” she says. “I truly hope that this signifies that the next generation we are raising will benefit from our conversations and our inquiries about their emotions, and that this will genuinely transform the way they grow up,” she continues. “We are breaking the cycle of intergenerational patterns that persisted in the past because our parents lacked the tools to discuss it.
While things are improving, there are still obstacles to mental health care for many. For those who live in places or communities where mental health stills feels like a forbidden subject, Akerman has a piece of advice.
“Be bold enough to be revolutionary,” she says. “Be the one to initiate the conversation. See what happens,” she continues. “There are so many resources online, there are hotlines, there are support centers,” she adds, sharing that the On Our Sleeves website is an excellent place to start.
Regarding the advice Akerman follows herself? Dedicate time to nurture your own mental health. For the actress, self-care practices are essential for feeling good mentally and physically.
“I exercise and I practice meditation,” she tells Shape. “I always try to set aside at least 10 to 20 minutes a day for myself. Whatever that may be. If I need to sit and gaze at a wall for 20 minutes, then I do that. If I need to go grab a cup of tea and simply listen to music, then that’s excellent,” says Akerman, advising others to do the same if they are able.
“You schedule it and you stick to it,” she suggests. “I notice when I don’t do it I get quite overwhelmed.”
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