How Rosie O'Donnell Beat Depression

ByABC News via via logo

N E W   Y O R K, Aug. 9, 2001 -- With her broad, smiling face, quick wit and infectious laugh, it's hard to believe that Rosie O'Donnell even gets the blues.

But, as the TV show hostess reveals in the latest issue of her magazine Rosie , she has struggled with depression her entire life. "I am one of the haunted," she wrote, saying she only freed herself of depression's grip two years ago, at age 37, with the help of antidepressants.

Depression is an illness that haunts many Americans, particularly women. In any given one-year period nearly 10 percent of the population — 19 million Americans, including 12 million women — suffer from depression.

O'Donnell wrote about her own trials with depression in the September issue of her magazine, which launched this spring.

A Secret Revealed

"It is scary to read it back to myself … to let it go out there into the world, this dark piece of me," she wrote. O'Donnell decided to reveal her depression because she wanted to help others who suffer from it feel less alone.

In an exclusive interview with ABCNEWS' Good Morning America, O'Donnell said she went through 10 years of seeing different therapists before deciding to take medication for depression.

"I would list all my complaints of my childhood and they would listen and nod and say 'I think you need medication,'" O'Donnell said. "And after they said it two or three times I would get another shrink and change my number so they couldn't call me back."

Why talk about it now? She's not sure. When she watches her performance in the 1992 movie A League of Her Own, O'Donnell says she can see her own depression coming through.

She said her emotional state was at its worst in her infamous television interview with Tom Selleck two years ago, when she blasted him for appearing in an ad for the National Rifle Association. Soon it was she who was being accused of hypocrisy. Her local paper reported that her son's bodyguard had applied for a gun permit. At the time she defended herself by saying that she sometimes has security people who carry guns, and that they should be regulated, not banned.

The Columbine High School massacre was what pushed her over the edge, O'Donnell said. She became obsessed with the idea that there was danger everywhere, and that no one was safe. She worried about her three adopted children. She would wake up in the middle of the night four or five times, gripped by fear. It got to the point that she considered leaving her talk show and checking into a hospital.

Back to Childhood

O'Donnell says she was depressed even as a child, feeling that there was a darkness in her home but not knowing what it was. In fact, depression runs in her family, as does alcoholism "and an absurd ability to deny the obvious," she said.

O'Donnell's aunt was severely depressed and attempted suicide when she was a child. O'Donnell remembers watching her aunt at parties, sluggish from the lithium she was taking, unable to remember the names of her nieces and nephews. It scared her.

Her aunt would likely have been helped by some of the new antidepressants, O'Donnell said. She herself resisted taking antidepressants, thinking it was cowardly, and a way not to really live. She also told herself that she was just sad or moody, not truly depressed.

'Living in Technicolor'

But that changed one day when she was lying in bed, feeling like the whole world was gray. Her son came in with a Rugrats video and said, "There are no guns in it. Do you want to watch it?"

She saw her own fear reflected in his eyes and thought of her aunt, who did not have the luxury of the medications she was refusing. The next day, O'Donnell took antidepressants.

Even though the effect of the pills was supposed to take longer, her life began to change in about five days. Suddenly the world seemed brighter and she was able to forget some of the pain of her childhood, and the fears that kept her awake at night. There are side effects, including dry mouth and a disinterest in sex. But overall she is happy.

"The gray has gone away. I am living in bright Technicolor," O'Donnell wrote.

For more information on depression, go to Rosie magazine, The National Institutes of Health, or The National Mental Health Association.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events