Think back five years. Mental health likely wasn’t something your friends opened up about too much, let alone celebrities. We’ve come a long way since then—mental health is now less of a stigma, and more of a part of our overall well being.
While Hollywood stars aren’t certified therapists, their voices amplify the importance of mental fitness to help those in need feel less alone. Ryan Reynolds meditates, Wayne Brady plays video games and paintball, Chris Evans soothes his mind with a “Sssh,” and The Rock seeks help from a therapist. Here’s exactly how they, and five other male A-listers, prioritize their mental health and normalize the conversation.
Believe it or not, Evans turned down Captain America several times due to extreme pressure and mental duress. In 2010—when he was filming an indie movie called Puncture—he started having mini panic attacks on set. Evans told The Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter podcast, “I really started to think, ‘I’m not sure if this [acting] is the right thing for me, I’m not sure if I’m feeling as healthy as I should be feeling.”
So when Marvel called that same year, Evans wasn’t having it. Then people close to him stepped in. Friends, family, his therapist, and fellow Marvel hero Robert Downey Jr. advised him not to make his decision based on fear.
“To be honest, all the things that I was fearing never really came to fruition,” Evans said.
Years later, Evans’ solution is to quiet his mind and live in the present, he told MTV News.
“Most of our anxiety in life, it’s about these fears about what will happen,” Evans said. “When you’re able to still your mind, and be present in your body, those fears melt away.”
How does he do it? “[The phrase] ‘Sssh’ has been a big thing for me,” Evans told Men’s Health. “Everyone’s brain is noisy, and the root of suffering is following that brain noise and listening to that brain noise, and identifying with it as if it’s who you are.”
The A-list charm fans see from Reynolds is a stark difference to what’s happening inside his mind, he told CBS News Sunday Morning.
“I’ve had anxiety my whole life really. And you know, I feel like I have two parts of my personality, that one takes over when that happens,” Reynolds said.
Watch old David Letterman interviews on YouTube and Reynolds looks like a natural. But what you don’t see is what’s happening off-screen. He says he was a wreck backstage and would think, “I’m gonna die. I’m literally gonna die here. The curtain’s gonna open and I’m just gonna be, I’m just gonna be a symphony of vomit,’ just, like, something horrible’s gonna happen,” Reynolds said.
Over time, he’s actively used meditation and a conscious effort to be mindful, he told The Wall Street Journal.
“I tend to pave over anxiety with work and, to a lesser extent, achievement,” Reynolds said. “You want to tick boxes sometimes. So these days, my goal is to be as present as I can and not just tick a box just to do it. I’m fully embracing and living that right now. It’s been amazing.”
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
The Rock’s larger-than-life smile and massive biceps can inspire anyone to be the best version of themselves, but even this Hollywood titan battles depression.
“The first time I had experienced depression, I was 18 years old, and I had no idea what depression was,” Johnson told People. “Back then, depression was also called ‘get off the couch and get your shit together and change what’s happening here.”
He also revealed his struggle after his mother’s attempted suicide when he was just 15.
Johnson says they both healed but to pay attention to people in pain and “remind them they are not alone.”
More sound advice from The Rock: seek help.
“Asking for help is not a weakness. As a matter of fact, asking for help is our superpower, and men, especially us, we fall into this trap of being really adverse to vulnerability, because we always want to be strong and feel like we can take on the world,” Johnson told People.
“But the truth is, you have to, and hopefully over time, learn to embrace vulnerability and learn to embrace this idea that you can’t always solve everything,” he said.
Celeb Health Habits
David Harbour may have an impressive weight loss transformation under his belt, but his mental health is always a work in progress.
“I was diagnosed at 26 as bipolar after an episode that landed me in an institution,” Harbour told Sky News. “I have definitely been in and out of the system. And there were times in my life where very easily I could have ended up on the streets, but I luckily had a family who could support me through those lean and very trying times.”
Harbour also said poverty was a trigger for mental illness, “It’s not like a broken leg. What defines crazy is social inappropriateness. But it’s very socially inappropriate, in a sense, to not have enough money to live on.”
“It’s chicken and egg,” he added. “They go hand in hand.”
Despite immense financial success with Stranger Things, Harbour knows money isn’t a cure.
He told the WTF podcast that he’s been taking bipolar medication for a long time. As for meditation and mindfulness? Not really Harbour’s thing. Instead he prefers to “eat a cheeseburger,” and hang out.
“If I write the self-help book it’s going to be like, ‘Sit on the couch and play some video games,” he said.
The Superman actor embraces stoicism—the idea of hardship without complaint—because he likes, “some of the core tenets,” he said. “Don’t let what you can’t control affect you, don’t let it affect your mental state.”
Despite his superhero mindset, Cavill believes you have the power to determine who you want to be.
“We have that strength, we have that resilience,” he told People. “And it’s just about keying into those necessary ingredients and then utilizing them to intentionally create a physical self as well.”
“Toughness used to be the ability to throw punches. It’s really the ability to take things, and understand your weaknesses, your strengths, and the wisdom to know the difference in a lot of ways,” Crews said.
The Brooklyn Nine-Nine star found therapy after spending time in rehab for a porn addiction that almost cost him his marriage. He told McKinsey Global Publishing that his wife almost left him and that “therapy opened my eyes to a lot of different ideas.”
A survivor of sexual assault, he spoke in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights to “share his experience to stand in solidarity with millions of other survivors in the world.”
And he’s not afraid to tout the benefits of therapy: “I recommend people find someone, a counselor, someone that loves them,” he told the Verywell Mind Podcast.
It took Brady more than 40 years to accept his battle with depression.
“[It] wasn’t like, oh, just shake it off. Oh, you’re having a bad day. Oh, you’re just sad. No, this is the real deal—stick-with-you-24-hours-a-day, you-don’t-want-to-get-out-of-bed, you-can’t-function type of depression,” Brady told Verywell Mind.
Brady found depression to be an insidious beast. “For years I had an imbalance that I just didn’t deal with,” he said.
Brady finally dealt with it following the death of the late comedian Robin Williams.
“Robin was someone that I respected greatly, [and I] was blessed to work with him,” Brady said. “I was touched by him my entire life. And when you see someone who had the mind of Robin Williams, and the kindness of Robin Williams, and the talent of Robin Williams say, ‘I cannot talk to anybody about what is going on with me because it’s too great,’ I knew that I didn’t want that for myself.”
Brady exercises and reads to clear his head. He also plays video games and won’t shy away from a paintball match, which helps him to stay active and gives him something to focus on.
With 28 Olympic medals—making him the most decorated American Olympian of all time—Phelps has been in the international spotlight for decades. And though his physical health was always under a microscope, it was his mental health that slipped.
“Throughout my career, I had a team of people around me that were paying attention to my physical health,” Phelps told Healthline. “If I needed to get stronger, there were 10 people finding out ways for me to get stronger. But mentally that wasn’t the case.”
The constant pressure may have yielded gold medals, but after Phelps got his second DUI in 2014, he opened up saying, “I felt like I didn’t want to be alive anymore,” and “that I was causing a lot of stress and issues for other people around me.”
Through therapy, Phelps has come to terms with his depression and anxiety.
“It makes me. It is a part of me. It’s always going to be a part of me,” he told Healthline.
While promoting his partnership with Talkspace and their “Permission Slip” campaign on TODAY, Phelps knows his life as an Olympian was part of the larger picture.
“My journey outside of water is really just beginning,” he said. “So I’m trying to give myself forgiveness when I slip up, or don’t do something perfectly.”
That suave, tight-suited, secret-filled Don Draper fans adore isn’t exactly a replica of the actor portraying him. Hamm opened up to TODAY about his struggle with chronic depression after both his parents passed away—his mother when he was 10, and his father when he was 20.
When his father passed away, therapy gave him a new perspective, along with antidepressants which “change your brain chemistry enough to think,” Hamm said.
After his success on Mad Men, he went back to therapy which is like “going to the dentist” in the U.S., he told The Guardian. Hamm needed structure and routine and therapy allowed him to avoid harmful patterns and emphasize creativity as a more constructive outlet.
Hamm now uses these tools to tap into his emotions to better inform his characters.
“I think keeping that side of your mind-body duality sharp is the same thing as keeping your physical side sharp,” he told Men’s Journal. “There’s a weird stigma about mental health, and there doesn’t need to be. Staying aware of where you are in that spectrum just makes good sense.”