Trigger Warning: homophobia, suicide
It seems like everyone in America is on a first-name basis with Ellen DeGeneres, and that’s no surprise. She’s a comedy goddess, a bubbly television personality. Positivity and optimism radiate from her: her upbeat bearing gets guests, audience and viewers alike up and laughing and dancing. So many would be surprised to learn that Ellen suffered from major depression for a considerable period of time in her life; I certainly was.
As we touched on in our Pete Davidson article, we often don’t think that comedians, who always seem to be laughing and making us laugh, too, can suffer from an illness like depression. The truth is, though, that we often don’t see below the surface, below the act that people suffering from this illness are compelled to put on, just to keep going from day to day. Depression doesn’t discriminate.
In a talk with “Good Housekeeping”, Ellen opens up about her experience with depression, revealing that it was first brought on by the homophobia she faced after coming out in 1997. Shortly after publicly coming out as a lesbian, her self-titled sitcom was cancelled, and she started experiencing discrimination and bullying from all fronts in Hollywood. As a result, she says in her interview, “I moved out of LA, went into a severe depression, started seeing a therapist and had to go on antidepressants for the first time in my life.” The rampant disapproval she faced in the spheres where she was supposed to receive support was devastating, frustrating, and just plain didn’t make sense; as she recounts, “It didn’t feel fair – I was the same person everyone had always known."
Unfortunately, this narrative is not uncommon in the LGBT community. Statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness show that members of the LGBT community are nearly three times more likely than their straight peers to experience mental illnesses such as major depression. Additionally, LGBT youth are four times more likely to self-harm, experience suicidal thoughts, and/or attempt suicide. The discrimination to which LGBT individuals are subjected is pervasive, and leave many of us in the community feeling dejected, hopeless, and helpless.
Fortunately, we have members of our community who have persevered and risen above to tell their stories. The fact that Ellen spoke out about her experience is important because it reminds us that we are not alone in these feelings. And the fact that she hasn’t lost her spirit or her infectious positivity despite all that she’s been through is empowering. Even after everything, she still radiates so much goodwill, and keeps us laughing along with her. She will always be that little voice in our heads, cheerily telling us to “just keep swimming, just keep swimming” – because we can, and will, get through this.