Evan Rachel Wood is opening up about her time in a mental hospital in a powerful essay for Nylon. The 31-year-old Westworld star began working in Hollywood at 7, rising to fame at a young age with roles in Practical Magic and Thirteen.
“When I was 22, I willingly checked myself into a psychiatric hospital, and I have absolutely no shame about it. Looking back, it was the worst, best thing that ever happened to me,” Wood says.
The decision came one day after Wood attempted to take her own life. She called her mom the morning after, reaching out for help.
“It was one of those moments when you have a choice that goes beyond the initial choice you make by calling out for help: You can not die, or you can come back to life. ‘Mom? … It’s me … I just tried to kill myself … I need to go to a hospital,’” she recalls. “When I said I needed to go to a hospital, I did not mean I needed to go for any physical injuries I may or may not have had. I meant a hospital for my state of mind.”
Wood was more concerned about how her mother would take the news than her own well-being. “This is how much I worried about others and not myself,” she says. “I had almost died, but the guilt and responsibility I felt toward others was so extreme.
“For the first time in my entire life, I asked for help,” Wood says. “I admitted I could not go on without someone intervening, to pick me up off the floor. I had collapsed under the stress and pressure of being alive. My white flag was up. But dying didn’t work. Now, I must tell you, I don’t recommend having a near-death experience, at all, but I can tell you that many people who do come back end up with a very different perspective on life.”
The Wrestler star met her mother, who “looked strong and protective.” Eventually, her mom asked the inevitable question: “Why? Why did you feel like you needed to do that?”
“After a moment I said, ‘I just wanted some peace.’ And that was true,” Wood recalls. “My mind was not a peaceful place. My mind at the time was filled with scars and shadows and, most importantly, so much shame. I was struggling with PTSD and didn’t know it. PTSD is considered a mental illness; it can be caused by a number of things and is not limited to brave service people. My PTSD was caused by multiple rapes and a severely abusive relationship that went on for years.”
Wood has talked about experiencing PTSD before from rape and sexual abuse.
“I had struggled with anxiety and panic attacks during the course of my life, but this was a whole other level of fear,” she says. “In my hazy stupor, I would see shadows, figures of people in my room, I would scream and they would dissipate. I was afraid to be alone, but I also couldn’t be around people. … I was defensive, I was impulsive and I had no healthy coping mechanisms yet. I lost friends. I lost job opportunities.”
Since she was in the public eye with her character often “dragged through the mud in the press,” Wood didn’t feel comfortable sharing her private struggles with the world.
“So when it came time to find a psychiatric hospital, my first concern — which most people won’t have to worry about — was figuring out a way to get help without anyone finding out about it, because if they did, any chance I had at rebuilding myself would be severely impaired by the cruelty of strangers,” she says.
After several unsuccessful attempts at finding a place with availability, Wood found a private room at a facility, which she paid “a significant amount of money” for.
“Mental health shouldn’t be a luxury for the rich. It felt like I barely made it in by the skin of my teeth — and I am privileged,” she says. “Imagine how hard it is with no health insurance or money or resources?”
Wood, with her mother by her side, checked herself into the facility with the process making the star feel like “she was being admitted to prison.” She slept for the first three days. When Wood emerged, she was unsure of what to expect.
“All I had seen of psychiatric hospitals was Girl, Interrupted and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I had no idea what I was walking into,” she says. After being fearful at first, Wood opened herself up to bonding with other patients.
“I spent most of my time on the patio smoking. That’s where the patients really get to know each other. We shot the s***, we were brutally honest, but, most of all, we were incredibly loving and empathetic to each other, even when we disagreed or someone lost their s***. We forgave, very easily,” she recalls.
“Every day the routine was the same. Wake up, get your meds, eat breakfast, get your daily evaluation, watch a bit of TV and go to bed, taking smoke breaks in between them all,” she says. “I was told to drink Ensure to build my muscle mass back up, and, for the first time in a long time, I ate whatever the hell I wanted. Two desserts? Gluten? Dairy? F*** it. Done.”
Eventually, Wood got the courage to join group therapy. “Everyone was to go in a circle and explain how they got here,” she says. “I was embarrassed. I didn’t think my story was bad enough. I thought everyone would roll their eyes and, in comparison, my story would fail to measure up to the others.”
“I took a breath and told the group a bit about my life, my abuse and my suicide attempt,” she says. “When I looked up, I saw a few faces in the room, crying. They were moved by my story. I was confused. Was I not as awful as I thought? Were my feelings, dare I say, valid? A piece of my soul returned. It’s bad enough feeling sad, but feeling ashamed for feeling sad makes things so much worse. It was a great burden lifted from my shoulders that day.”
Wood put in the work during her stay at the facility — and it paid off.
“I had felt worthless, and like the world was better off without me. But it turned out I had helped myself in a way I never thought was possible,” she says. “And for the first time in years, I felt like maybe things did happen for a reason. Maybe there was a reason why my attempt didn’t work. Maybe I was supposed to be here.”
She adds, “Sometimes I feel like a version of me did die that night, but a new me was born. Now my life is in a place I could have only dreamed of because I committed to do the work and I continue that work every day of my life in every step I take.”
Wood has continued therapy and eventually weaned herself off of medication.
“I am not always perfect, I am not always at my best, I still struggle with my PTSD, but I know that I will get through it. I have better tools now to get through what seem like the impossible times, and most importantly, I know my worth,” she says.
“There is no economic class, race, sexuality or gender that is safe from their own mind. We know success doesn’t cure depression, we know that people telling you they love you doesn’t cure depression, we know that just thinking positively doesn’t cure depression,” she says. “Depression isn’t weakness, it’s a sickness. Sometimes a deadly one. And sometimes all people need is to know that they are loved and that others are there for them. They may not take your hand right away, but knowing it’s there could save their life one day. Or who knows, you might help save your own.”
Wood shared a link to the essay on social media, along with a trigger warning, saying she’s “not ashamed.”
If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.