Lena Dunham Talks Anxiety, Depression And Mental Health Stigma

By David Konow 02/14/17

“I don’t remember a time not being anxious.”

Lena Dunham

Girls, the HBO series created by Lena Dunham, is finally coming to an end after six seasons. The show established Dunham as a brave new force among female comedians. Along with the success of Girls, Dunham is also the author of the best-selling memoir Not That Kind of Girl, in which she candidly wrote about her dark past. Dunham has been vocal about her mental health struggles which include anxiety, OCD, and depression.

Before a recent speaking event in Manhattan, Dunham confessed to Vogue, “I just took half a Klonopin; I’ll be fine.” Dunham then told the audience, “I don’t remember a time not being anxious.” Her parents discovered she was suffering from anxiety at the tender age of four. At one point, Dunham became so debilitated by nerves, she says she “missed 74 days of 10th grade.”

The stigma that surrounds mental illness kept Dunham from seeking help for a long time. “I also had an incredible amount of shame,” she said, according to the Huffington Post. “At camp, the kids who had to stand in line for medication were freaks. You either were cool and had diabetes, or you [had] OCD and were a freak.”

Dunham eventually relented and tried a series of psychiatric drugs, but at first she couldn’t find the right combination. She even briefly considered ending her life, saying that at one point she was looking at the headlights of a car, thinking, "I could just walk right in front of that car, and I wouldn’t have to worry about this again." Instead, she went back to the drawing board for her treatment plan, which included lessening her meds and seeing a therapist.

Dunham is grateful for her support system, which includes Girls executive producer Jenni Konner, who once advised Dunham, “Being ashamed about feeling anxious is punishing yourself twice.” In helping raise awareness about anxiety, Dunham says she hopes that people will be “teaching kids from a young age that it’s as okay to say ‘I’m anxious’ as it is to say ‘I hit my knee.’”

Dunham also quipped that she has more anxiety than Hannah, her character on Girls, “only because Hannah has very specific anxiety about what’s going to happen to her. ‘Does this boy like me? Did this job interview go okay?’ I’m slightly more aware of what’s happening on the planet, and I care more about how other people feel, so those are added elements to be anxious about. Sometimes when I have really bad anxiety, I do go, ‘Well, I’m just Hannah today. She has so many fewer problems than I do!’ No one’s mad at her on Twitter!”

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.