Evan Rachel Wood on her stay in a mental hospital: ‘The worst, best thing’

Evan Rachel Wood, 31, has penned a powerful essay for Nylon about the time she checked herself into a mental hospital at the age of 22. She’s opened up in the past about the fact that she’s been raped, that she has struggled with her identity and has attempted suicide. I believe this is the first time she’s discussed her hospital stay. She opens by saying that depression and mental illness are not your fault but that there’s something you can do about it. Then she recalls the day she phoned her mom, admitted that she had tried to kill herself the night before and asked for help. I can’t do her story justice in an excerpt so please read it at the source if you have time. She’s a strong writer and the story of her despair and recovery is so well told. She fondly describes the other patients in the ward with her and has a vivid recollection of events. Her personal story would make a compelling film.

She reached out to her mom for help
When I was 22, I willingly checked myself into a psychiatric hospital, and I have absolutely no shame about it. Looking back, it was the worst, best thing that ever happened to me…

Then with an almost hysterical acceptance, without thinking, I picked up the phone.

“Mom?… It’s me… I just tried to kill myself… I need to go to a hospital.” When I said I needed to go to a hospital, I did not mean I needed to go for any physical injuries I may or may not have had. I meant a hospital for my state of mind.

Two burgers, two tacos, and a quesadilla later, at a truck stop, she finally asked, “Why? Why did you feel like you needed to do that?” After a moment I said, “I just wanted some peace.” And that was true. My mind was not a peaceful place. My mind at the time was filled with scars and shadows and, most importantly, so much shame. I was struggling with PTSD and didn’t know it.

Her mother had to call five places to find her a bed
If I didn’t shell out a significant amount of money to snag a private room at a decent place, I don’t know what I would have done. It certainly wasn’t fancy by any means, but it was decent and it was safe.

Mental health shouldn’t be a luxury for the rich. It felt like I barely made it in by the skin of my teeth—and I am privileged. Imagine how hard it is with no health insurance or money or resources?

When I was recovering, even the smallest act of kindness was like antiseptic on an open wound, I needed it, but it burned. It burned with shame and guilt. When you forget how to accept love it hurts when you finally do. Sometimes you don’t know just how bad you felt until you start to feel better, and that can be a tough pill to swallow. You start to realize just how much you have been lying to yourself.

She bonded with the other patients
I went into the mess hall to grab some food. I immediately started talking to the girl next to me. We made some silly comment about the dessert and decided to sit together. One of the other patients quickly joined us. I was taken aback by how welcoming everyone was. I was a new recruit, and I could tell that was a big deal and people were curious about me. We went around the table getting to know each other a bit. I remember feeling immediately at ease…

After that, I spent most of my time on the patio smoking. That’s where the patients really get to know each other. We shot the shit, we were brutally honest, but, most of all, we were incredibly loving and empathetic to each other, even when we disagreed or someone lost their shit. We forgave, very easily.

A psychiatrist thanked her for Thirteen
On my last day there, while I was having a cigarette outside on a bench, the psychiatrist who gave me my daily evaluations came over and sat beside me. She asked me how I was feeling and if I was ready to leave. I told her I was scared but that I felt like I was in a better place and ready to do the work I needed to do. At the end of our conversation, she leaned over and said, “Can I tell you something now that you’re leaving? I didn’t want to mention it before.” I said, “Sure.” “When I was in school, I saw the movie Thirteen, and it made me want to get into this line of work to help people. You’re why I’m here.”

Sometimes I feel like a version of me did die that night, but a new me was born. Now my life is in a place I could have only dreamed of because I committed to do the work and I continue that work every day of my life in every step I take.

There is no economic class, race, sexuality, or gender that is safe from their own mind. We know success doesn’t cure depression, we know that people telling you they love you doesn’t cure depression, we know that just thinking positively doesn’t cure depression. Depression isn’t weakness, it’s a sickness. Sometimes a deadly one. And sometimes all people need is to know that they are loved and that others are there for them. They may not take your hand right away, but knowing it’s there could save their life one day.

[From Nylon]

I’m reminded of the early 2000s, when Angelina Jolie opened up about her mental health struggles, and how she was ostracized for it and painted as unstable. We have a better understanding now but there’s still a long way to go. Stories like Evan’s help people understand that they’re not alone and don’t need to be ashamed. I also appreciate that Evan acknowledges her privilege and understands how much more difficult it can be for people without her means.




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28 Responses to “Evan Rachel Wood on her stay in a mental hospital: ‘The worst, best thing’”

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  1. Nikki says:

    This is one of my favorite posts EVER. I’m sorry she had to suffer so, but how wonderful to have such an articulate, compassionate spokesperson for those suffering from depression. Great to read.

  2. Jillian says:

    I sometimes think about checking myself in.

    • Alissa says:

      One of my best friends did a couple years ago, and it was the best thing for her. It was scary but she is so glad she did it. She still struggles a lot, but she very well might not be here if she hadn’t spend that time in the hospital.

    • LA says:

      You’re not alone there. I just went through a med change and before the adjustment, I was thinking about it pretty regularly. Don’t be afraid to get the help you need. It’s worth it. Sending love.

    • Nikki says:

      I’m glad you know you have options. I wish you the very, very best.

  3. GreenQueen says:

    Wow. She described my mental state perfectly – that was me in my early 20s but I never would have let my self go to a hospital, I was too scared and honestly already felt so much shame and guilt and I was broke and would never have let my parents pay for that. Looking back now I wish that I had, I didn’t develop the best coping strategies and I think I might have done better had I gotten more intensive professional help.

    Thankful to have an intelligent woman like her putting this out there, that is so brave of her. Thirteen had a huge effect on my life too, there was so much pain in the falling apart and beauty in finding that you can still pick up the pieces.

  4. Victoria says:

    Bravo. This needed to be said. I went for ten days and it was a rest, like a vacation with no frills. We need take better care of ourselves

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Bless her for writing this and opening up even more.

  6. lucy2 says:

    That is very powerful and well written. I really applaud her for sharing her experiences, and acknowledging how it’s even harder for those without means.
    I’ve been a fan of hers for a long time, I think she’s incredibly talented, beautiful, and stylish, and from the outside I never would have guessed she was in so much pain. I’m so glad she sought help and is using her platform to help others now too.

  7. PhillyGal says:

    My 24 year old son suffers from general anxiety disorder and depression, and he is having a hard time finding a medication where he doesn’t have terrible side effects. We have the means to get him the best care (insurance sucks), and I’m retired so I can be around for him, but I have such empathy for those who are struggling and don’t have many options. And my daughter is a case manager and counselor for poor individuals with addiction and mental health issues, and she sees such tragedy every day. We have got to get to the point in this country where we view mental health conditions with the same level of seriousness and priority as cancer. Lives depend on it.

    • Dee Kay says:

      PhillyGal, you said it. As a society, we really need to acknowledge that mental health matters, it matters in a life-and-death way. People’s mental health affects every single part of their health and their lives. I think Americans are told in big and small ways all the time to ignore their mental health but it should be the opposite, we should be checking in with ourselves and each other all the time about our emotional and psychological well-being.

  8. BANANIE says:

    I think it means so much that not only is she discussing depression, but the hospital. People who take that extra step are often seen as even more unstable, etc.

    I’m relieved she had such a good experience there and bonded with fellow patients. The two times I voluntarily admitted myself to the hospital, it was a mixed bag. Some people were kind, some were aggressive, some were compassionate, some were resentful and some even ended up being dangerous until restrained and later sedated.

    It was also there that I encountered this weird hierarchy of mental illnesses. It made me understand more why some people with depression feel that their issues “aren’t a big deal.” That’s not true at all. But in the hospital I saw anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder (my illness) PTSD and schizophrenia. It seemed like that was the order – ascending- that people took more seriously. That’s wrong. People have different struggles but everyone should be heard.

    • brutalethyl says:

      Retired psych nurse, and I agree that everyone should be heard. But the truth is staff is a limited resource and there aren’t enough to give everybody the attention they need. So of course people are prioritized to an extent.

      Somebody in crisis and possibly headed to forced meds or restraints gets priority. Dead stop.

      Next comes the people who are actively psychotic or suicidal. We don’t want anybody to get hurt, and they’re the ones most likely to hurt/be hurt.

      After that, well, comes everybody else.

      If you were at a state hospital, you can multiply all that x 100 and divide the staff in half. Mental health is at the bottom of the totem pole, even as more and more people need treatment. It’s a very sad state, the mental health system in the US.

      • Beer-n-Crumpets says:

        I’ve always felt like the psych nurses are kind of the Metal Gods of the profession. (Like Metallica…. not like… shitty metal like Ratt.)

        I hate that mental health has all this weird stigma around it. It seems to me that now people are less likely to be awful about someone else having mental health issues, which is great- but are still funky about the possibility that THEY might have issues of their own that need attending to- which is not great. There should be no more shame in having a mental illness than there is having a physical one. I don’t know any cancer patients who are ashamed of themselves for having and being treated for cancer.

  9. BengalCat😻 says:

    I spent a week on the psych ward of my local hospital several years ago. It was eye opening and awful and beneficial. But despite meds and therapy, depression never goes away. I’ve learned to recognize symptoms when they happen but it doesn’t really get easier. One of my closest friends (who’s father died by suicide) recently looked at me and said “Getting out of bed is hard, but once you do, things get better”…I was floored. The stigma exists, even from those we think “get it”.

    • brutalethyl says:

      Are you sure your friend wasn’t talking about herself in relation to how she’s feeling after her dad’s suicide?

      I hope you’re doing better. Depression can be a bitch, and it sounds like your friend’s dad probably suffered from it.

      • BengalCat😻 says:

        She was talking about her sister who is suffering from depression. I know it came from a place of love and frustration, but it was difficult to hear and I didn’t want to address it since it was during the holidays. I’m fine now but fear my illness will eventually take it’s toll.
        Thank you for your kind words ❤

  10. Case says:

    She’s so eloquent. How wonderful for her to speak about such a difficult topic — she has no idea how many people she’s helping by doing so. Good for her for understanding that she needed help and taking the steps to get in a better state of mind.

    I don’t deal with depression, but I do have general anxiety. When I’m PMS, my anxiety goes through the roof. I’m glad I’ve identified what triggers it in such a terrible way, but man is it a b*tch.

    Unimportant side note: She looks SO MUCH like Rachel Brosnahan in these photos, it blows my mind.

  11. Evie says:

    Painful but important read. Her experience really resonates with me, as I was in a psychiatric facility at 13. People never really talk about this stuff—myself included—so it’s nice that she’s shedding light. Being in a facility really is a life-changing experience in so many ways—good and painful—and I really agree with her point about being a new person before and after.

  12. otaku fairy says:

    Angelina still gets ostracized a bit for her mental health issues. She certainly doesn’t have an army of people using those issues as a reason for why she should be exempt from anything she may not want to hear- whether mild and valid or hateful and bigoted. So neither should men.

  13. kellybean says:

    This bright years to my eyes and I’m awestruck at her eloquence , grace, honesty and vilnerability. Yes there was been a “national dialogue” about destigmatizing mental illness but saying the words ,” mental hospital” and “psychiatric ward” will stop a conversation in a hot second. Overall our society may be more aware and understanding about depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc. but are they comfortable with the details of treatment or what daily life can look like in the grip of an illness? Not exactly. I checked myself into a voluntary adult psychiatrist unit at a major university once when I was having a severe depressed episode and the other with an acute manic phase. Both times were preceded by suicide attempts. My fellow patients ranged from eighteen to 50+. There were men and women. College students, parents, former military, parents. Some patients were in and of if various facilities and many, including my roommate, received ECT. It’s hard to understand the bond that develops in this evironment. It’s an artificial environment that is also incredibly intimate even with those patients you don’t particularly interact with regularly. I’ve found that often any friendships formed don’t last outside once you’re back in the real world .. You can try but everyone is on their own journey . Some people transition more successful whereas the cycle continues for others. Regardless, the fact that these relationships don’t carry over outside of the hospitals, it’s a special relationship that is hard to describe unless anyone experiences it firsthand. You’re bound by seeing each other in your worst moments as well as the beauty of seeing the light return to their eyes. It’s been 5 years since my last hospitalization and I would do it over agaiin without hesitation. I still think of all those on my unit everyday. So much respect and gratitude for Evan.

  14. Naddie says:

    Thirteen will forever be a part of my life because I saw it exactly when I was battling against pos traumatic disorder and so needing to get help, which, as she wisely remarked, is not for the poor ones. I strongly admire her and wish her all the happiness in the world.

  15. CairinaCat says:

    I teared up reading her story, so powerful.

    It is so hard to get good mental health help.
    I’m lucky I and my kids and my sister and niece have a good psychiatrist, we all have the same one.
    Even with a excellent shrink what was almost impossible was getting my 12 year old a bed in a hospital, at 12 they are pediatric and it is really really hard to get a child into any hospital let alone a good one.
    My kid is bipolar and was suicidal and having a breakdown, it was really bad. We started him on depakote and other stuff. For a month and a half his Dr called into every single place that took children trying to get him a bed.
    During that time he was never alone for 24/7, we moved his bed into our room and he never left the room or went to the bathroom alone. That’s how bad it was.
    And that’s how hard it is to get a horribly mentally I’ll child a bed even when you have a good Dr and good insurance.

    Fast forward a year, his depakote quit working suddenly. Total breakdown, regression emotionally to about 3, suicidal.
    But since he was 13 thank god we we’re able to get him a bed within a week.
    But it STILL took a WEEK. My kid is 6 foot tall, imagine controlling a rampaging 3 year old that size.

    OMG it was horrible putting him in the hospital even though he wanted to go in because he knew he needed help and wanted it. In theory.
    The reality was he felt we were abandoning him because he had been bad.
    Pleading please mommy come get me I promise I’ll be good.
    And since he had emotionally regressed to about 3 it was like leaving a baby in there who didn’t understand.
    He was in for a week
    I was taking about 3mg of Ativan every 4 hours just to get through it without going manic myself, I was a zombie.
    We we’re allowed to see him 2 hours a day in the evening. He was able to call and that was a nightmare of pleading and promising to be good and to please love him. OMFG

    They put him on Zaprexa which worked and he is still on.
    He still is in our room , this is now 8 months after.
    He is much better, but he still can’t go to regular school he is on home independent study/home hospital through the school district.
    Except for when he goes to his brothers house on Saturday night for 4 hours to play board games he is with us 24/7
    I never really get a break. He is so emotionally needy.
    But is VERY intelligent, actual genius level
    His diagnosis is Bipolar I&II, and mixed episode, rapid cycle. ADD, OCD, Severe Clinical depression, Severe general anxiety, severe social anxiety, panic disorder and to top it off ASD.
    And when he has breakthrough issues he gets stomach aches, migraines, abdominal migraines, bad asthma attacks.
    The pills, he takes 7 different meds. Make his stomach hurt and make him feel hungry constantly. So he wants to eat constantly.
    He has also grown 6 inches since September, he’s 6’2 now and almost 14. The hormone fluctuations from that are something else, plus growing pains.

    My older son 23 has the same diagnosis (Me too) but he is less extreme.

    I’m frankly almost ready for the hospital myself, if I get to that point I will. I’m not afraid of it for myself.
    But I hold it together for my kid, mostly.

    I haven’t been hospitalized for mental health but I have come very close twice. I figure odds are good at some point I will be. Because I’ve accepted that, I’m not afraid of it.

    I encourage anyone getting to the point where they need hospitalization to please do it.
    You’re generally only in for 2 days to 2 weeks at most until they get you over the hump and the new meds are in your system. Take your pillow and some books.

    Celebitchy and this comment section really help keep me sane. Thank you.