Winona Ryder Gets Real

What is clinical depression? According to the American Psychiatric Association, clinical depression is diagnosed when a person presents at least five of the following symptoms: depressed mood (feeling sad or empty, often portrayed in adolescence as irritability), reduced interest or feeling no pleasure in most activities, weight loss or weight gain, insomnia, restlessness or slowed behavior, fatigue, feeling worthless, difficulty concentrating, and suicidal ideation. According to Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 8.2% of adults have major depression or persistent depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 12.5% have experienced a major depressive episode in the past year, and these numbers are on the rise. Fortunately, depression can be treated, usually through medication or therapy.

Depression is common, and it does not just appear as sadness or tears. Celebrities, often portrayed in magazines smiling or assumed to “have it all,” are just as affected by mental illnesses. Winona Ryder, 80’s icon and star of a wide variety of critically-acclaimed or fan-obsessed movies such as Heathers and Girl, Interrupted, has more recently opened up about her own struggles with depression. In an interview for, Winona Ryder stated, “I was very depressed after breaking off my engagement with Johnny [Depp].” She detailed this struggle in an interview with with People Magazine when she explained the common feeling of guilt brought on by depression: “It was really ironic because, like, everybody else just thought I had everything in the world, you know, I had no reason to be depressed…, but inside I was completely lost.”  This year, in an interview with New York Magazine she talked at length about how mental illnesses are a normal part of life and not something to be ashamed of.  In the interview, she stated, “I’m so sick of people shaming women for being sensitive or vulnerable. It’s so bizarre to me.” Her use of the word “bizarre” perfectly captures how society is the weird one for shaming normal (and often advantageous) qualities in females that can also coincide with mental illnesses. Society stigmatizes women with mental health struggles, and Winona Ryder is not tolerating this anymore. She further asserts, “I am super sensitive, and I don’t think that that’s a bad thing.” While being sensitive may have played into her own struggles with depression, it has definitely also contributed to her success as an actress—being able to truly delve into each character’s feelings and allowing her to have evolved into the movie star she has become today.

Further, in her interview, Winona Ryder detailed how appreciative her fans were of her stance on mental health. Specifically, she states, “women come up to me [saying], ‘It meant so much to me.’” Simply talking about mental health with a “this is a natural part of life” tone, rather than playing into society’s stigmas can touch people in so many ways and maybe even spark them to do the same.

People often focus on the negatives, especially with mental illness, which can add to the stigma. In December 2001, Winona Ryder was arrested for shoplifting. This single incident in her life was spotlighted so much that, according to People magazine, “the news of her arrest topped stories on the supposed capture of Osama bin Laden.” Her arrest was even covered by the New York Times. Obviously, it was not a positive situation for her to be arrested, but for society to emphasize that as more newsworthy than a possible terrorist’s capture shows how distorted America’s priorities are. After Winona Ryder’s arrest, many people wrote her off as “just another star that went crazy,” and that misses the big picture by a large margin. Here is a girl that was struggling with mental health—as so many Americans do—and yes, she made some mistakes, even one that lead to an arrest, but in spite of all that she achieved more than most people, with or without mental illness, can hope to accomplish in a lifetime.

In conclusion, mental illness is not something to be ashamed of but rather to be aware of. There are positives to every situation. While society continues to stigmatize mental health, Winona Ryder is not one that is willing to put up with that anymore. An incredibly accomplished and revered actress, she has set a new stage for how mental illness should be discussed.