Sharing lessons learned on her mental health journey, Ginger Gonzaga reminds us to take care of our beautiful brains.
I’ve been singing all day,” admits Ginger Gonzaga. “Fun fact: singing is scientifically proven to elevate your mood. It may not make my neighbors happy, but it makes me happy.”
“Mental health was often taboo in my Filipino family, but if there’s one thing I really know about Filipinos, it’s that we have so much love,” shares Gonzaga. She adds that this love should guide these open conversations, no matter how difficult the topics can get. “Filipinos have historically survived so much. Our culture is so fearless.”
She emphasizes that it is never a comfortable experience to address these matters. However, in pushing through that stigma and understanding someone’s pain, it may lead to compassion that can help people heal. “We have no need to fear honest, non-judgmental discussions about mental health based in love,” she adds.
As a comedian herself, having trained at The Groundlings, Gonzaga also shares the significance of finding the funny in the struggle. “While we all need to take our mental health seriously, the ability to find silliness in that seriousness is a gift,” she says. “Mental health journeys are never perfect,” she notes.
The She-Hulk actress can also be counted on to be outspoken and honest when it’s anything to do with mental health. She reminisces that her mental health journey has been an imperfect and unpredictable rollercoaster. Having dealt with eating disorders, undiagnosed bipolar II, and ADHD at a young age, there wasn’t much discussion on mental health when Gonzaga was growing up in the ‘90s. “It wasn’t easy to identify what I was experiencing. Most people’s advice at the time was to simply be strong.”
As an adult, she now advises that in order to be strong, we have to find out what’s going on with our brains; identifying the cause for us feeling sad or depressed or anxious, a way to find ways to help ourselves.
Gonzaga was first led toward mental health treatment late into her adult life due to her eating disorder causing physical weakness. She admits that she couldn’t avail of help earlier because she couldn’t afford it, which remains the case for most people.
The most empowering thing she’s learned is that there are several inexpensive ways to treat the brain. She encourages people to find online support groups such as international 12-step programs where people can join meetings anonymously via Zoom to talk, listen, and share. “[These] can be helpful [in] building community, connecting people with similar struggles, and offering helpful resources.”
Although Gonzaga’s path through mental health has been a long and winding one, she tries to find the fun in it. “I like to pretend that I’m a detective and I treat my feelings or issues like clues,” she quips. She takes these clues online and searches endlessly until she finds articles, interviews, books, or audiobooks on the subject. “I take care of myself [through education] and learning.”
Inevitably, she’s always led to educational materials that help her learn and bring her peace. “The more we strive to understand what we are feeling and how to address it, the more we can greatly minimize the struggle,” she adds.
When asked about her relationship with shame, Gonzaga cites two causes for it: other people’s judgements and a lack of self-love. “We can’t control other people’s judgements, but we can offer ourselves more self-compassion and self-love,” she elaborates. Forgiving ourselves for anything that brings debilitating shame and actively finding ways to not repeat mistakes are important, she says.
Just as it is important for people to know that she is Filipina, it’s also essential for Gonzaga to share that she is able to achieve in life despite navigating various mental health issues on a daily basis. “[I can] show people that as an underrepresented person in the industry, I am working. I am able to use my talents, and I am thriving and shining,” she says. “For me, it’s not about personally being seen, it’s about allowing others to be seen,” she adds.
Gonzaga concludes that every human, in varying degrees, has a mental issue to address. “We’ve all recently suffered the trauma of a global pandemic—that’s a mental health issue. We all have to find ways to cope and process that trauma,” she says. “Now more than ever, we can’t afford to ignore these discussions. So I say, let’s continue to learn, love, and share, and when in doubt—sing!”
Photographs by Mitchell Nguyen McCormack. Stylist: Kimberly Goodnight. Makeup: Kenna Reef. Hair: Dylan Michael. Model: Ian Phillips of OPC Model Management. Casting: Industry Lifestyle Consulting. Producer: Media Playground PR. Stylist’s Assistant: Michaela Reed. Shot on location at Dream Hollywood