In her new memoir, the actress talks openly about her battles with depression and bulimia.
In her new memoir, actress Gabourey Sidibe isn’t holding back on the difficulties she’s faced in her rise to fame. Titled This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare, the Empire star writes in her book about her battles with depression and bulimia—and it’s often heartbreaking to hear what she’s experienced.
One main challenge Sidibe faced: getting her mom to recognize the severity of her depression. Sidibe writes when she tried to open up to her mom, her mom told her to “get a thicker skin,” reports People, who obtained an exclusive listen to the audiobook version of her memoir.
“When I first told her I was depressed, she laughed at me. Literally,” Sidibe writes. “Not because she’s a terrible person, but because she thought it was a joke. How could I not be able to feel better on my own, like her, like her friends, like normal people? So I just kept thinking my sad thoughts—thoughts about dying.”
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for friends and family to dismiss a person’s mental health concerns.
“Psychiatric symptoms aren’t always visible on the outside,” Evelyn Attia, M.D., a board-certified psychiatrist and the director of the Columbia Center for Eating Disorders, tells SELF. “The person on the outside can’t see what [someone] is struggling with.” Because of this, it’s common for a friend or family member to often dismiss or ignore information from someone seeking help, Dr. Attia says. “And that can be very disheartening for the affected individual.”
Sidibe’s depression dangerously affected her eating habits, and she developed bulimia, too. “Often, when I was too sad to stop crying, I drank a glass of water and ate a slice of bread, and then I threw it up,” Sidibe writes. “After I did, I wasn’t as sad anymore; I finally relaxed. So I never ate anything, until I wanted to throw up—and only when I did could I distract myself from whatever thought was swirling around my head.”
Depression and bulimia co-occur in a significant number of people.
Dr. Attia, who did not work with Sidibe, says depression and bulimia are closely linked. “If we look at a sample for bulimia nervosa, we see depression in a significant percentage of individuals,” she says.
Dr. Attia adds that suicidal thoughts and suicide rates are also higher among individuals with a formally diagnosed eating disorder, even in the absence of depression. “If someone has bulimia nervosa it’s extremely important to evaluate mood,” she says. “A comprehensive evaluation could be useful in identifying the full range of symptoms someone is struggling with in order to assure effective treatment.”
Thankfully, Sidibe sought help from a professional, who helped her understand the scope of her mental illness.
“I found a doctor and told her everything that was wrong with me,” Sidibe writes. “I’d never run down the entire list before, but as I heard myself, I could sense that dealing with this on my own was definitely no longer an option.”
And the doctor helped Sidibie realize the danger of her suicidal thoughts: “The doctor asked me if I wanted to kill myself. I said, ‘Meh, not yet. But when I do, I know how I’ll do it.’ I wasn’t afraid to die, and if there was a button I could’ve pushed to erase my existence from Earth, I would have pushed it because it would have been easier and less messy than offing myself. According to the doctor, that was enough.”
Sidibe was prescribed antidepressants—which Dr. Attia says are effective at treating bulimia, too, as they may help to decrease the urge to binge and purge when combined with therapy—and the actress started seeing a therapist. Today, Sidibe still seeks help from a therapist when she needs it, and she works regularly with a nutritionist.
“When it’s too big for me to just turn around on my own, I see a therapist,” Sidibe told People. “I see a therapist anyway. We all should see a therapist. If only for the hour a week that you can talk about yourself and not worry about monopolizing the conversation? F—ing do it, it’s worth it!”
The moral of Sidibe’s story: If you’re struggling with a mental illness or an eating disorder, seek professional help. There are ways to get better. “Individuals with bulimia nervosa, individuals with depression, and individuals who’ve got both are highly responsive to treatment,” Dr. Attia says. “Medications and focused psychotherapies are tremendously helpful at achieving total remission of these symptoms.”