Chyler Leigh is opening up about her struggles with mental health. The Grey's Anatomy alum spoke for the first time about being diagnosed with bipolar disorder nearly 10 years ago, as part of a new initiative encouraging others to also speak up about living with mental health issues through the "Be Vocal: Speak UP for Mental Health Initiative. During the vulnerable interview, she also revealed she was hospitalized before she started to manage her condition.
In an interview with PEOPLE, the Supergirl star revealed she had a "very, very difficult journey" to managing her disorder. She told the outlet that after growing up with a mother who suffered her own struggles, Leigh admitted she felt like it was "the end" when she was diagnosed.
"My mother was diagnosed with — at the time they were calling it manic depression — and I saw such an extreme version," she said. "Because I saw what happens when you aren't advocating for yourself or taking care of yourself, when I first got the bipolar diagnosis it was sort of like, 'Oh my gosh, if that was me, how on Earth am I going to deal with this?' Am I in the same place? Am I equipped? Do I have what it takes to actually really genuinely take care of myself?'"
She recalled seeking help during a difficult time for her family, including husband Nathan West and children Noah, 16, Taelyn, 13, and Anniston, 10.
"We have three kids that are also living with either a mental health condition — we have ADHD, we have Asperger's, high-functioning autism — that's all of my three kids. So that, [and my] career, trying to make [our] marriage work, dealing with all these symptoms and not knowing what to do with it, that's where I kinda hit my breaking point and I shut down completely," Leigh told the outlet. "During that point, right before I was diagnosed, I was like, 'I'm drowning, I’m drowning.'"
After going through a few experts and medications, Leigh recalled experiencing a "pretty severe breaking point" in 2011 when she ended up hospitalized for several days.
"I hit mania so high that I couldn't sleep. They gave me medication particularly for not sleeping and it would not work," she said. The experience led her to take action on handling her disorder and turn over a new leaf.
"At that point it was a matter of 'OK, I need to kind of start fresh, and see what works with me,'" she said of her state of mind after the hospitalization. "I did find a medication that works that I still take, which keeps me very level, much more even. There are not really big peaks and valleys. It makes me function as a human being where I feel like, 'OK, I can manage when things are really hard and I can also really celebrate victories.'"
By opening up about her experience, she hopes fans and other will seek help and manage their own struggles with mental health.
"I've always been a very kind of private person," Leigh said about keeping her disorder under wraps until now. "I think mostly because of being afraid of having my story out there and being labeled as anything because there is very often such a negative stigma about it. That fear of judgment and 'Oh, if people see me this way, that means that I'm not good enough or I'm not well enough to be able to take care of myself' or whatever it might be. But, being able to have a fantastic platform to be able to speak my story and know that it’s going to reach a tremendous amount of people, that was major motivation for me [to speak out]."
"It's OK to not be OK. And it’s incredibly important to reach out. Be willing to let your guard down a little bit to be able to find that community. And also know that if you’re really struggling that there are so many resources. Be Vocal is a great way to go online and find all the advocacy partners," she added.