"My hope is just to help people feel not as alone or strange in what they are going through."
That mindset has been a guiding light for Brittany Snow, both in the movies she stars in and now the projects she makes as a writer, director and producer. It is also why she wanted to appear on Gold Rising's "Destigmatizing Mental Health" panel alongside Lana Condor, Justin Baldoni and moderator Christy Desai (LMFT therapist and CEO of OK Humans).
Gold Rising is the Academy's summer program for students and young professionals from underrepresented communities, now in its sixth year. Tuesday's panel focuses on breaking down negative conversations and stigmas surrounding mental health, something Snow has been continuously outspoken about in discussing her own struggles with depression, anxiety and an eating disorder.
"I know for me, it helped immensely seeing and hearing people in the same industry be open about their mind, and how it helped their creative processes and endeavors," she explains. "Some of the most talented and inspiring people I've ever met have gone through something that deals with their mental health in one way or another. I'm excited I can be a part of this new community of friends I get to meet this week."
In conversation with A.frame, Snow opens up about the importance of keeping mental health top of mind and discusses directing her first film, September 17th, about a young woman who struggles with food and body image issues and has recently been discharged from rehab.
A.frame: You have been open about discussing your own mental health struggles, even when few other people were speaking out. Why has it been important for you to be vocal about it?
Snow: Searching for answers in regard to my mental health has always been a huge part of my life. When I was a teenager, I felt very confused as to what was going on with me. I found I had friends and peers that were going through similar things, yet no one was really speaking about it. There was an intense fear of judgement and stigma surrounding such things, which seemed controllable. The more I realized I was not alone in what I thought made me so different, the better I felt. Finding those allies made me feel like I could put a name to what I was going through, and because of that, I wanted to do the same for others.
My mental health journey has not been perfect, but I have always been unwavering in my need to seek help and learn from my missteps. I try to not see depression and anxiety as detriments, but rather as something that makes me able to connect with people in a more interesting and meaningful way. It really helped to learn from others and be honest about my own story, regardless of perceived judgement. I've gained so much insight into myself and my health when I simply try to give back and connect with other people.
What has the response to that vulnerability felt like? And has it taught you anything new about yourself?
At first, the response to my admissions seemed like a setback. It wasn’t a topic many people were talking about at that time, so I was met with confusion and dismissal. When I was at my lowest in my late teens/early 20s, I remember saying to myself that if I could get through, I would make the struggle worth it. It had to be for a reason, and the only worthwhile reason would be to make someone else feel like they weren't alone as well. After some time, being met with questions about speaking out only aided my recovery. It made me realize I needed to not care what anyone else thought about me. Not giving any power to the chatter, from other people's judgements or even my own, has taught me so much about myself.
What are some of the ways you have discovered to take care of your mental health and keep your own mental health top of mind?
A daily practice definitely helps. I keep a tool kit, of sorts. Many books, podcasts, therapy, writing, and friends all help me from day to day. Getting out of my head and into my body helps a lot, too. Lately, I've found it's helped to not have much social media. I try to only go on a couple times a week. It feels so much better to not to engage with it, or at least put boundaries around it.
You're making your feature directorial debut with September 17th, which is about mental health. Why was this a story that was important for you to tell?
When I was young, there wasn't a narrative movie about depression as it manifested into struggles with food and body issues. I felt very confused and alone in what I was going through. I didn't connect with the health class videos or what was written in the textbooks. I needed to find a way to relate to it and feel it. I'm hoping this film resonates with people, regardless of if they have this particular mental health struggle. I think we all try to leave our bodies and numb out in a way to deal with pain. Hopefully, this movie will cultivate a community going through similar feelings of leaving yourself, and normalize a needed conversation around it.
Recent studies have said that mental health conditions are still underrepresented in movies. In telling this story, what is most important to you about how you are representing mental health struggles onscreen?
I think many times we get the same type of story surrounding mental health. The person can't cope, they lose all hope, they go to rehab, things change and the movie ends. I think this is useful and accurate, but this formula only gives us one timeline into someone's mental health journey. For me, it's not only about the breakdown, the fallout and the rehabilitation. Sometimes, it's about just living day to day, and trying to simply be a human being. With September 17th, the story is about the seemingly "normal" act of falling in love. I also wanted to represent the partners, family members, significant others and friends who also suffer when someone they love is struggling with mental health.
"If anyone walks away from the film and feels 'seen,' then maybe I have done my job."
Making a movie can be an intense experience. How did you create and run a set with mental health in mind? And what did you do to maintain your own mental health throughout the process?
That's a really good question. Thankfully, my producers and I had many talks about it before we began. We wanted to make sure the community on set had a careful approach. When bringing together the crew and especially the cast, we sought out people who had a personal connection to this topic. It was beautiful to look around and realize almost every single person on set — from electric to crafty — resonated with the intentions of the film. Because of that, we had an energy on set that was really special. Everyone respected each other, took care in their work and had fun, I hope! Due to the subject matter, the cast was given the option of therapy as a resource and ability to continue their normal practices. We created a family with a common goal in mind, and that made it come to life in such a beautiful way.
Making your directorial debut is also a very exciting time in an artist's life. What are you most excited for fans to see in this movie and in you as a director?
I just want people to see themselves in it. It's scary and vulnerable, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous. But then again, that's what it's all about. Maybe the story's honesty and vulnerability will resonate with someone. If anyone walks away from the film and feels "seen," then maybe I have done my job.