Actor and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik manages mental illness — issues that include obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety and depression — with medication and therapy.
But she also finds it crucial to share stories and experiences with people who are facing the same situations, she says.
That’s why she jumped at the chance to meet with clients at Omaha’s Community Alliance on Tuesday afternoon.
“They’re people like me, and they’re here because they are seeking help,” she said in an interview after talking for more than an hour with about 200 people at the mental health agency, which offers psychiatric and rehabilitation services, counseling and support for area residents who need mental health assistance.
Bialik, who played neurobiologist Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler on “The Big Bang Theory” for nine years, has given numerous speeches about how mental illness has affected her and her family.
But the Omaha speech, she said, “was a very special one,” her first ever at an organization like Community Alliance. She said she wished she had found such an agency when she was first struggling with her mental health.
Because of that, she asked that there be no phones, photos, Facebook postings and media at her talk so she could talk freely with clients. People who attended praised the sincerity and authenticity of her presentation, with clients listening intently and nodding as they related to her message.
“We need to learn from others and their experiences,” she said in the interview afterward.
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She also spoke Tuesday night at the Breaking the Silence gala for Community Alliance at the Holland Center. It wasn’t her first trip to Omaha: She came here with her dad when she was a kid to meet a pen pal.
The 43-year-old actor, who starred in the sitcom “Blossom” from 1990 to 1995, said she began to realize she had emotional issues as a teenager. She said she grew up in a family with a lot of mental health challenges, including two sets of grandparents who had immigrated to the United States from eastern Europe during the pogroms that preceded World War II.
“They came from childhoods of trauma,” she said.
But back in the day, people did not discuss mental illness, so it took her years to get the help she needed. Now she’s working to change the stigma. She has a doctorate in neuroscience from UCLA and did her thesis on obsessive-compulsive disorder.
“It didn’t dawn on me that it was about me,” she said.
She said she’s teaching her sons, ages 14 and 11, that it’s important to be open about mental illness and its manifestations.
“Talking about it is the first thing,” she said. “They make fun of me because I have to touch things three times.”
She also speaks out when she thinks individuals or television and movies are glib or dismissive about mental health.
“We need to be careful how we speak of it,” she said.
“The Big Bang Theory,” which ended with an hourlong finale this spring, took that kind of care. The characters, four scientists and their girlfriends (eventually wives), all had relatable eccentricities: For a time, Raj Koothrappali couldn’t talk to women without a couple of drinks, and viewers speculated that Sheldon Cooper was on the autism spectrum.
Bialik said co-creator Bill Prady, a writer and producer, describes the show as “not about diagnoses but about learning to live with each other’s quirks.”
Bialik also was passionate about her belief that the government needs to make it possible to get help.
“It’s important for people who are not celebrities to get what’s available to celebrities,” she said.
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