'Spider-Man' actors share their journeys and contributions to the mental health community through the years

December is always a hard month for me mentally – living on a diet of Christmas cookies and hot chocolate while going broke on Amazon and constantly trying not to cry. And the last two years, with the COVID-19 pandemic and yet another surge in cases, it's been even more difficult than usual. 

But, sometimes, even the smallest thing can help improve your mental health. Maybe it's a good book or a good movie. Maybe it's having something to look forward to. Maybe it's realizing you're not alone and that others are going through the same thing you are. 

For me, that "small thing" came in an unexpected place. It came in the form of Spider-Man. I know, I know, you probably think I'm a nerd for admitting this, but hey, if it works, it works. And, seeing the movie Spider-Man: No Way Home was exactly the self-care I needed. After walking out of the movie theater on opening night, filled with child-like wonder, that was the happiest I've been in a while. And, for a little while, I was able to forget about everything else. 

And, across the Twitter-verse, others agree. One user said this movie was the only thing getting them through holiday depression. Jezebel writer Kylie Cheung said of the film: "No Way Home is deeper, more beautiful, even, than the love letter to fans it’s being lauded as — it’s a love letter to everyone who wants to see this world outgrow its punitive limitations, and honor every person’s worthiness of a second chance."

Thinking about how this fictional piece of entertainment was so restorative for mine and others' mental health, it made me wonder —what about the real-life stories behind the actors who have portrayed my favorite super hero throughout the years?

As it turns out, all three Spider-men, along with their leading ladies, have either been open about their mental health or worked to help others who struggle with mental illness. Hopefully their stories will help you feel less alone and realize that even superheroes (or...the actors who play superheroes...) struggle with their mental health.

Tom Holland

Tom Holland has made it a point to raise awareness about mental illness through the projects he chooses to be involved in. He recently starred in the film Cherry, about an Army vet suffering from PTSD and addiction. And, earlier this year, it was announced he will star in and be an executive producer of a mental illness anthology on Apple TV+ titled “The Crowded Room." 

The series will explore the true and inspirational stories of those who have struggled and learned to successfully live with mental illness. Tom will play Billy Milligan, the first person to ever be acquitted of a crime because of multiple personality disorder.

Tom is also the first to step up to help those around him who are struggling with their mental health. Actor Jake Gyllenhaal credited Tom with helping him overcome his anxiety on the set of Spider-Man: Far From Home. Entering the Marvel world for the first time, Jake said he kept forgetting his lines because he was so nervous. Jake said Tom was able to help him get out of his own head and relax.


In an interview with British Vogue, Zendaya talked about how she takes care of her mental health by regularly going to therapy. 

"If anybody is able to possess the financial means to go to therapy, I would recommend they do that. I think it’s a beautiful thing. You know, there’s nothing wrong with working on yourself and dealing with those things with someone who can help you, someone who can talk to you, who’s not your mom or whatever. Who has no bias," she said. 

Zendaya has also talked about her past struggles with anxiety. On her blog, she wrote, "I used to struggle with anxiety pretty bad. It only happened when I sang live. ... It stemmed from a bad experience I had while singing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2013. I had my anxiety ever since that. I did figure out how to bury my anxiety, though. I've tried focusing my energy on other things, like making movies. And I took my time and slowly built my confidence back up before I went back out on stage to sing live."

Andrew Garfield

In May 2020, Andrew Garfield was featured on the Child Mind Institute's #WeThriveInside series, a comprehensive source of mental health support for families during the COVID-19 crisis.  

"I'm alone in my apartment. ... So I'm finding that reaching out to friends and family and people I love who love me and hold space for me to be emotional or honest about how I'm feeling — that feels really important," he said. "Help other people if we can, when we can. ... If your friend is having a hard time, be a good listener. And (it's important to) take care of ourselves so we can take care of other people." 

Andrew said one way he takes care of himself is by staying away from social media. 

“I don’t think it would be beneficial to my mental health. I think I’m too sensitive, and I want to stay that way. What these platforms promise is some form of negative or positive feedback, and either one can be addictive for someone who equates attention with love. ... It’s not great if you want to have a deep experience of being alive," he told Fox News.

Emma Stone

For about as long as she's been famous, Emma Stone has been open about her mental health struggles. She said, as a child, she had massive anxiety and was also borderline agoraphobic. 

She had her first panic attack at seven years old and, on a Child Mind Institute panel, she said, "It was really, really terrifying and overwhelming; I was over at a friend’s house and all of a sudden I was absolutely convinced the house was on fire and it was going to burn down. I was just sitting in her bedroom, and obviously the house wasn’t on fire — but there was nothing in me that didn’t think we weren’t going to die."

As an adult, Emma has learned to manage her anxiety, which she attributes to her supportive family and years of transformative therapy. And, now, she can view her anxiety in a positive light. 

"Everyone experiences a version of anxiety or worry in their lives, and maybe we go through it in a different or more intense way for longer periods of time, but there’s nothing wrong with you," she said. "To be a sensitive person that cares a lot, that takes things in a deep way, is actually part of what makes you amazing, and is one of the greatest gifts of life."

Tobey Maguire

Tobey Maguire, the OG Spider-Man, has been very open about his struggles with substance use disorder and his involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous as part of his commitment to staying sober. He said he stopped consuming any mind-altering substances when he was 19 years old.

Talking with Entertainment Weekly about AA, he said, "It’s just all practical. ... There are no holes in the program. It’s so, so simple. I come in, I ask for help. It has totally changed my life.”

Kirsten Dunst 

In a recent interview with the Sunday Times, Kirsten Dunst opened up about her struggle with depression in her 20s before seeking treatment at a rehabilitation center in Utah. She said focusing on her mental health was a transformative experience and made her grow as a person. 

"It's hard to talk about such a personal thing, but it is important to share too. All I'll say is that medication is a great thing and can really help you come out of something," she said. "I was afraid to take something and so I sat in it for too long. I would recommend getting help when you need it."

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