Why These 4 High-Achievers Chose to Share Their Mental Health Struggles: ‘That's Making Me a Better Me'

Photo credit: Alexandra Martin

For many people, 2021 was a year of reckoning with mental health.

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has caused Americans to feel more stressed and anxious than they did in 2020, according to a Cleveland Clinic study in October. And in the sports world, athletes Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka spurred conversations around the globe after pulling themselves out of high-profile competitions to work on their own mental health.

Globally, more than 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression, affecting more women than men. Anxiety disorders affect more than 40 million adults in the U.S., and nearly one in five American adults have a mental illness of some kind, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

It's important to know that you're not alone — and that solutions exist to help you manage your mental health. Here are CNBC Make It's four most powerful mental health stories of 2021, and what you can learn from them:

NBA star Kevin Love on struggling with mental health: ‘You can’t achieve yourself out of depression’

Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers
Jonathan Daniel
Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers

Last month, five-time NBA All-Star Kevin Love told CNBC Make It that he started using mental health struggles as fuel to win basketball games as early as high school. But the longer he fought, the more he realized that he needed to somehow alleviate his bouts with depression and anxiety.

"You can't achieve yourself out of depression," Love said. "You can't achieve yourself out of that high-level of anxiety."

In 2018, Love wrote about his decades-long fight with depression and anxiety in a Player's Tribune essay titled "Everyone is Going Through Something." The essay launched a movement among high-profile athletes to destigmatize mental illness. Since then, he said, more people approach him about mental health than basketball.

"If I didn't have the tools or had not worked with a therapist the last four years, I don't know if I would have been able to deal with people sharing their stories," Love said.

Love credited therapy, journaling, a daily gratitude practice and channeling his late grandmother to helping him stay mentally healthy. "It's all about protecting your energy at all costs," he said. "Be wary of instant gratification — I've always thought of discipline as deciding between what you want now and what you want most."

Actress and entrepreneur Kristen Bell on combating her anxiety and depression at work

Vera Anderson | WireImage | Getty Images
Kristen Bell at "The Good Place" Press Conference at the Four Seasons Hotel on October 16, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Vera Anderson/WireImage)

The biggest lesson actress and entrepreneur Kristen Bell has learned while trying to manage her anxiety and depression: Don't let them fester.

"I don't wait for those things to find me," Bell told CNBC Make It in August. "I have a preoperative list to combat them, because I know they're coming."

That list includes exercise and giving herself small timeouts when she feels stressful events starting to bubble up, even when she's in the middle of a busy workday. She also said it means constantly working to reframe the way she thinks about mental health by adopting a growth mindset — believing that she can change, develop and improve herself.

Bell said she often finds herself referencing an old Eleanor Roosevelt quote: "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

"I just don't consent anymore," Bell said. "I'm not embarrassed about any of the time I need to take to help myself, because that's making me a better me."

Former EarnUp CEO Matthew Cooper's battle with 'deep anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation'

EarnUp's co-founder Matthew Cooper
Courtesy: EarnUp
EarnUp's co-founder Matthew Cooper

For nearly a decade, Matthew Cooper masked his anxiety and depression in the corporate finance world. That ended abruptly with a hospitalization in August 2020.

"I went from being in a pretty good place to pretty deep anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation in a matter of days," Cooper told CNBC Make It in May.

The experience forced Cooper, a co-founder of San Francisco-based fintech start-up EarnUp, to make a tough decision: He decided to step down as CEO, telling his 90-employee team about his mental health journey on his way out. He similarly detailed his story in an op-ed for Quartz titled, "I'm stepping down as CEO due to my mental health—and I want to talk about it."

Over the ensuing months, Cooper said, he used therapy, daily meditations, journaling and exercise to help himself recover. And ultimately, he added, attempting to destigmatize his experiences felt like a necessary step.

"It feels important to me to use my story and my voice to help other people that are in pain, or have family members who are in pain," he said. "Mental health is still one area where there is a lot of shame and secrecy in our society in general, and in particular, in the corporate world."

Lindsey Vonn on battling depression while becoming an Olympian: 'You need those little victories'

Lindsey Vonn of United States of America during the Climate Austrian World Summit on Hahnenkamm Race Weekend on January 23, 2020 in Kitzbuehel, Austria
(Photo by Martin Rauscher/SEPA.Media /Getty Images)
Lindsey Vonn of United States of America during the Climate Austrian World Summit on Hahnenkamm Race Weekend on January 23, 2020 in Kitzbuehel, Austria

When Lindsay Vonn debuted as a professional skier in 2001, she was just a teenager — but she quickly established herself as a dominant force in the sport, winning a women's record 82 World Cup wins before retiring in 2019.

The whole time, she was battling mental illness. "I've had depression since I was a teenager," Vonn told CNBC Make It in October.

Between that depression and a laundry list of injuries and crashes — including multiple knee surgeries, a concussion and one season-ending ACL sprain — Vonn said she could barely get out of bed some days.

But she learned to  "lean into" those struggles by journaling, building a support system around her and finding little joys every day. She also credited her success to naps, an unconventional style of pre-race preparation and a deep love for her sport.

Vonn's post-injury recovery periods were among the hardest to deal with, she said. And she learned a valuable lesson while finding ways to get through them.

"I [focused] on the little victories every day to keep myself positive and motivated," Vonn said. "You need those little victories. And you need to keep that long-term carrot dangling in front of you to motivate you every day."

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