Hollywood comedy star Mayim Bialik, the star of CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory” will headline a special fundraiser for Jewish Family & Career Services of Atlanta. The program on the mental well-being of teenagers and pre-teens entitled “Tween & Teen Mental Health in The Age of COVID” is on Giving Tuesday, Dec. 1.
She told the Atlanta Jewish Times that the isolation that has been such a part of the pandemic has had an enormous impact on our mental health, particularly for adolescents.
“This isolation has magnified everything, our finest attributes and the ones that need the most help, too. Any of us who tended towards anxiety likely found it ramping up. Same goes for depression. Not knowing what happens next – with a pandemic, with an election, with our kids’ school – is incredibly stressful even in the most level-headed person. We need to remember to be gentle with ourselves.”
Bialik, who has been an outspoken advocate for a better understanding of the stresses that today’s adolescents face, is the author of three books on the teen years, including the 2017 bestseller, “Girling Up: How To Be Strong, Smart and Spectacular. “
The actress, who will celebrate her 45th birthday less than two weeks after her Atlanta program, also wrote a companion volume, “Boying Up: How to Be Brave, Bold and Brilliant.” She is the mother of two boys who are 12 and 15.
Her JF&CS lunchtime conversation is aimed at helping parents cope with the pressures they face during some of the most difficult years in their children’s lives. The first principle she advises adults to follow is “keep an open dialogue.”
She explained, “Don’t force conversations but continue to let your kids know that you are available and open for talking about anything and everything. I resist saying I know everything about everything; it allows us to figure things out together and that makes us connect better than if I act like the authority on the Universe. That being said, I am not their best friend. I’m their mom; and it’s also my job to provide structure and discipline so they can feel safe. In addition, if you feel your kids don’t want to open up to you, examine how available you are to them. I have had to cut back on my screen time on my phone since my kids started expressing that I wasn’t seeming available. They were right!”
As a very successful performer, who first began acting at the age of 12 and became a star at 14 in “Blossom,” the 1990s sitcom about a quirky teen, Blossom Russo. In its five seasons, the series dealt with controversial issues such as drugs, sexuality and relationships that play such an important role in adolescent life. Yet, after over 30 years in the limelight, she’s had her share of emotional ups and downs, including a divorce eight years ago. She admits that she is “still learning” as she copes with her own anxiety and depression.
“I am a firm believer in rigorous honesty and the use of psychotherapy to help us all understand where we come from and how it impacts our present and future. Building a strong relationship with a therapist who I am completely honest with has been a building block of my mental wellness.”
After “Blossom,” she took a break to earn an undergraduate degree at the University of California Los Angeles, where she studied Hebrew and Jewish Studies and took an active role in Jewish life on campus. She founded a women’s Rosh Chodesh group, blew the shofar for High Holiday services, and wrote music for UCLA’s Jewish choral group.
She was raised a Reform Jew but, as she told the Sun Sentinel of South Florida, today considers her spiritual practice more traditional.
“Judaism is a religion of cumulative mitzvoth (commandments). So I keep adding and growing and being intellectually honest. I know first and foremost that my faith in God will never waiver. God can handle all my complexity and struggle and I know that I will be okay.”
Complementing her real-world experience with teenagers, she brings an impressive academic background as well. To follow up on her undergraduate degree in neuroscience, she took a second break from acting in 2005 to earn a doctorate in the subject.
Her dissertation explored the experience of teens with obsessive-compulsive disorder. She credits recent scientific advances for giving us a better understanding of ourselves and our children.
“Incredibly important research has been done so that we can understand the neural substrates of mental health conditions. Neuroscience also helps us learn about which chemicals influence which kinds of behavior and the best ways to help those who are struggling.”
Tickets are still available through JF&CS for the live event Dec. 1.