Wil Wheaton: I Live With Chronic Depression & I Am Not Ashamed

By David Konow 05/10/18

The "Star Trek" actor discussed chronic depression and anxiety during a conference for the National Alliance On Mental Illness.

Wil Wheaton
Photo via YouTube

At the age of 13, Wil Wheaton became a Hollywood star playing Gordie Lachance in the beloved hit Stand By Me.

He later transitioned that success into a featured role on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and he still works regularly, appearing as himself on The Big Bang Theory.

But Wheaton has also struggled with depression and anxiety for most of his life. He spoke candidly about mental health at a conference for NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, in Ohio.

“My life is, by every objective measurement, very very good,” Wheaton told the audience. “And in spite of all of that, I struggle every day with my self-esteem, my self-worth, and my value not only as an actor and writer, but as a human being. That’s because I live with depression and anxiety, the tag team champions of the World Wrestling with Mental Illness Federation.”

Wheaton said it took him 10 years to be able to tell an audience that he suffered from chronic depression, “and I suffered for most of them as a result. I suffered because though we in America have done a lot to help mental illness, we have not done nearly enough to make it okay for our fellow travelers on the wonky brain express to reach out and accept that help.”

Wheaton explained that he started having panic attacks when he around seven or eight years old.

“Back then, we didn’t know that’s what they were, and because they usually happened when I was asleep, the adults in my life just thought I had nightmares… Night after night, I’d wake up in absolute terror…”

During his rise to stardom after Stand By Me was released, Wheaton said, “I worried about everything. I was tired all the time, and irritable most of the time. I had no confidence and terrible self-esteem.”

Wheaton knew something was wrong, but he didn’t know what, and he didn’t know how to ask for help. “I wish I had known that I had a mental illness that could be treated!” he said. “I wish I had known that I didn’t deserve to feel bad all the time.”

Wheaton didn’t blame his parents for not recognizing that he needed help. “They lived in a world where mental illness was equated with weakness, and shame, and as a result, I suffered until I was in my thirties.”

Wheaton added that when depression drops on you, “we have to remind ourselves that one of the things depression does, to keep itself strong and in charge, is to tell us lies, like: 'I am the worst at everything. Nobody really likes me. This will never end.' We can know, in our rational minds, that this is a giant bunch of bullshit, but in the moment, it can be a serious challenge to wait for depression to lift the roadblock that’s keeping us from moving those facts from our rational mind to our emotional selves.”

The actor ended his speech with a powerful statement: “My name is Wil Wheaton, I live with chronic depression, and I am not ashamed. Thank you for listening to me, and please be kind to each other.” 

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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.