By AMANDA SEITZ
WASHINGTON (AP) — As more Americans struggle with depression and anxiety, the cast of “The West Wing” teamed up with the Biden administration on Thursday to share a simple message: you are not alone.
The star-studded cast of the drama series that, even years after being off air maintains a strong fan base, participated in a roundtable discussion with the White House to share their own stories of childhood abuse, isolation during the COVID-19 and struggles to help their children navigate the anxiety-inducing world of social media.
Through it all, five members of “The West Wing” cast said that talking with friends, family and even each other got them through darkest moments.
“Community is the key to all of this,” said actor Martin Sheen, who served as the U.S. president on the drama series.
Actor Bradley Whitford, who played the role of the president’s deputy chief of staff on the TV show, opened up publicly about a female teacher who he said was “physically, extensively inappropriate” with him decades ago when he was in sixth grade.
“I knew it had happened, but I didn’t know how to talk about it,” Whitford said. “I was able to find a very, very safe space where I could talk about it. I’ll never get rid of the fact that this thing happened to me, but giving it a name, giving it perspective, has allowed to me to not still be captive to it.”
Whitford and his castmates urged other Americans who are struggling with their mental health to lean on those closest about their tough times, too. About 4 out of every 10 U.S. adults have reported symptoms of anxiety or depression last year, a trend that took a turn for the worse during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Zooming in from the set of “The Wonder Years” reboot, actor Dulé Hill said he struggled with isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s important we all just continue to engage each other, to see each other and our humanity,” Hill said. “I can still feel isolated and alone. But I want you to know you are not alone. I am not alone, and together, we will make our way to our brighter tomorrow.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra reminded those tuning into the talk that they can also call the newly launched 988 hotline to talk to someone when they are struggling with thoughts of suicide, a crisis or depression.
The three-digit 988 line connects callers with trained mental health counselors. The federal government has provided over $280 million to help states create the system.
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