Singer Michelle Williams on Why Being Open About Mental Health Is Necessary
Talking about mental health is not an easy thing to do, but singer Michelle Williams, who was diagnosed with depression, feels that opening up always helps. Mental health is a topic that fortunately over time has become less taboo in society, especially as we’re discovering it affects many people to some degree. In March 2020, mental health disorders increased due to quarantining during the COVID-19 lockdown. It highlighted how important it is for every individual to prioritize their state of mind. However, now as we enter the post-pandemic era, it’s crucial that as a society, we continue to focus on our overall well-being. Having brave people like Williams tell her story may encourage others to seek the help they need.
On May 25, Williams released a tell-all self-help book titled, Checking In: How Getting Real about Depression Saved My Life—and Can Save Yours, in which she got candid about her experience with depression in honor of Mental Health Awareness month and UBS’ Athletes and Entertainers Strategic Client segment led by former NFL star Adewale Ogunleye. The Destiny’s Child vocalist recently chatted over the phone with Worth to discuss what her journey has been like and how she hopes to help others who are struggling.
Some of Williams’ comments have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: Congratulations on your new book. How do you feel since it was released?
A: I feel good. I really do. We are here. We made it. It’s here. It’s been two years in the making.
Can you tell me a bit about your book? What inspired you to write it and why release it now?
Yes, it is called Checking In: How Getting Real about Depression Saved My Life—and Can Save Yours. And it’s just a practical memoir about my life. But it’s got practical tools. I keep it real and just stay down to earth in my delivery so that people can know that it’s OK to get help to process pain and trauma. Even if you don’t know that’s what it is…that it’s pain or trauma…there will be somebody who can help guide you through what you’ve been feeling.
Is there anyone who has helped you in becoming so vulnerable and open up about everything you’ve been through?
Well, I’ll say this. I started talking about it in about 2013. It was kind of by accident, it really was. I just kind of blurted it out in an interview because the interview was so conversational; the guy was so friendly, and I just felt he was a friend. And I just told my story a little bit. And I was like, “Oh my gosh, I had never disclosed this ever.” But throughout the years, there have been people…I’ll never forget the first time Charlamagne tha God began to talk about it on The Breakfast Club, on that morning [radio] show. They talk to millions of people every day. And I was like, that was huge for him to talk about his journey. The actress Jenifer Lewis has been so transparent about her journey, too.
You’ve said “I need help” is the most important thing one can say. Can you elaborate more on why you believe that?
Yeah, that’s one of the things I say in the book. That is one of the most incredible things a person could say. It’s probably the strongest words a person can say. I mean, telling someone you love them are some of the most vulnerable words or the most heartfelt words you can say, but go to the opposite of that and be like, “Because I love you, and I pray you still have love for me after I tell you this, I need help. I’m not doing well, I don’t know how I feel or I know I’m feeling to a place where this doesn’t feel normal.”
Is there something that led you to realize, “I need help”? Is there a significant moment that made you want to seek help?
Yes, definitely. I really go into detail in the book about that moment. But in general, I can say when I didn’t feel safe with myself…I’m a homebody, I love to be by myself. So, when I didn’t feel safe with just me, I was like, “Yeah, you have to go get some more treatment.”
You once admitted that while you were touring with Destiny’s Child, you felt depressed. How do you handle depression while having to still go to work?
My depression started in the seventh grade. Destiny’s Child was not the cause of my depression or anything like that. And it was just for a moment, it wasn’t my entire time in the group. Just for a moment there, I could feel symptoms again of what felt familiar when I was growing up in school as a child. So I could tell something was going on again; I wasn’t feeling right.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about this journey with mental health in general and in regard to success?
Just make sure that you’re always keeping it real with a person in your life. I pray that everybody gets a safe person or that therapist that you can call…just get the help that you need. Your best friends aren’t necessarily equipped to handle a lot of our issues. Now they can be there to listen. It wouldn’t be fair…I make sure that I don’t dump on my friends. I sometimes ask, “Hey, do you have the emotional capacity to handle this?” Because a lot of my friends are mothers and wives, so you just want to make sure. But if you have a therapist, that’s what they get paid to do, they get paid to listen.
What advice do you have for others who are struggling with their mental health?
The advice that I have for others who are struggling is, just know that it’s a great strength for you to say those three words, “I need help,” or “I’m not OK.” And to stay consistent on your pace, in your pace. And [what I mean] by that is, you know the pace and speed at which you can move. Do be consistent with your stride. Set boundaries for yourself. People will adapt to your boundaries for sure. You don’t have to announce every adjustment. Just take slow steps away from people and circumstances. If you find yourself used to saying “yes” all the time, practice saying “no.”
How has being vulnerable helped your personal relationship with yourself, with other people and with work?
It definitely has gotten better. There are times I’ve stopped myself in regards to being able to tell somebody, “Hey, I didn’t appreciate this. Can we reevaluate where we both might have taken some missteps?” Relationships are everything. You want to make sure you’re maintaining them well. At least my friends love the honesty, and I love the honesty from them. Not too long ago, I asked my best friend, I said, “Hey, I just want to ask is there any area where I can be a better friend?”
Knowing everything you know now, is there anything you wish you could tell your younger self?
That sometimes a lot of what a child is feeling is not their burden to carry. Now, as a child, sometimes we are sponges, and we feel everything. But it’s not our burden to carry and try to fix what grown folks are going through around us. Be a kid. And then, I wish I would have had the courage as a young child to even have better conversations with my parents as to how I’m feeling.
I think mental health and breaking generational curses can sometimes go hand in hand, but talking about these topics lead to better relationships. Do you agree?
Absolutely. Talk about it because there are times I don’t think our parents meant to do that. I don’t even think our grandparents meant to do that. But to pass down that generational trauma—is it generational curses or generational trauma, too, that you pass now from generation to generation…how parents discipline the kid? Some of them can be passing down trauma.
Is that something that you’ve learned from, where you feel that because you went through something, you’re not going to repeat those same mistakes?
Yes, absolutely. You know what that pain feels like and it also makes you want to be quicker to apologize. You are human, we’re human, we’re not going to be perfect. And so we’ve got to give ourselves room and grace for when we do unintentionally, possibly hurt somebody or how we might respond. We might be quick with our response and didn’t think before responding. So even if you make a mistake, I think, the tools that I have make me instantly say, “Oh my gosh. I’m so sorry, I did not mean that. Let me reword that differently.”