The following article is about mental health and drug use.
Jessica Chastain has it all: fame, talent, millions to her name and an Oscar under her belt. But the “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” star began with all the odds stacked against her. Born to a 16- and 20-year-old father, Chastain grew up amid adversity, according to Us Weekly. Chastain’s father, a rock musician named Michael Monasterio, was never in the picture, which is why she goes by her mother’s last name. Her mother raised her and her siblings in Northern California as best she could. “It was really, um, it wasn’t what you’d expect. When people see me, I think they expect a different background than me,” she told the Times in January.
Despite her mother’s best efforts, the family often had to resort to desperate measures. “We stole groceries from the store because we didn’t have any money,” Chastain told ES Magazine in 2017. It wasn’t exactly a secret. “Some people knew she was doing it but didn’t stop her,” she said. “So there is kindness everywhere. We are fine now because people have protected them.”
Chastain knew her family could never afford to send her to acting classes and offered to work at the local performing arts school in exchange for tuition. “There were people who saw that I was struggling as a kid and they helped me,” she told the Times. Chastain fought her way out of this harsh reality, but tragedy continued to affect her and her family. This is especially true of her sister Julia.
Jessica Chastain’s sister committed suicide
A scholarship from Robin Williams enabled Jessica Chastain to study at the prestigious Juilliard School, which she would not have been able to do without the financial help. “He made it possible for me to go through college. His generous spirit will forever inspire me to support others as he supported me,” she wrote in a Facebook post in August 2014 (via Entertainment Tonight). Through hard work and the help she received along the way, Jessica has built a prosperous future for herself. But not everyone in her family was equally fortunate.
Her younger sister, Juliet Chastain, suffered from addiction and mental illness from a young age. Three days before Jessica graduated from the Juilliard School, her sister died by suicide at the age of 24. “She’s had a long history of substance abuse and has had many suicide attempts, but you never really believe that’s going to happen… And when you get the call, it’s… shocking,” Jessica told Modern Luxury in 2016.
Juliet died at the home of Michael Monasterio, with whom she recently reconciled – something Jessica never did, the Daily Mail reported. “Losing my sister brought us together as a family,” she told ES Magazine. Julia’s death also gave Jessica a different perspective on life. “It completely changed who I am. A movie, Oscars, a dress, if someone thinks I’m stupid … I realized nothing really matters that much,” she told InStyle in 2014 (via Page Six).
Julia’s death inspired Jessica Chastain’s activism
In addition to acting, Jessica Chastain is also committed to causes close to her heart. Among them is mental health, which she supports through To Write Love on Her Arms, a nonprofit organization that helps people struggling with substance abuse, depression, and suicidal thoughts. The actor came across the NGO about a decade ago. “I started looking online…my sister killed herself. And that’s in my story,” she told Yahoo.
The experience urged them to take action to prevent similar tragedies from happening. “For me, suicide is a very important issue. If there’s anything I can do to help someone navigate the darkness they’re in, I’ll do whatever it takes to help,” she added. The loss of her sister also inspired her to change the way mental health is typically presented and understood. “I have so much empathy for people who are struggling with depression. Because society doesn’t really understand it,” she told ES Magazine.
The problem becomes glaring when celebrities are involved. “That’s what I noticed with Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman,” she added. (Williams committed suicide, while Hoffman died of an accidental drug overdose.) “It makes you feel like you’re being selfish.” This attitude compounds the problem because those struggling with mental illness often try to hide it . “If someone is struggling with depression, you can’t trust that person to reach out to you in a society that doesn’t really embrace it,” she told Yahoo.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).