Mayim Bialik on how her new mental health podcast helps fans deal with COVID anxiety

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Bill Keveney, USA TODAY
·6 min read
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Mayim Bialik approaches social media differently from celebrities who are just trying to burnish their brands.

First, "The Big Bang Theory" alum and star of Fox's "Call Me Kat" (Thursdays, 9 EST/PST) is willing to share personal details that many fans can relate to, such as dealing with a romantic breakup.

"I think a lot about what I would have loved to have heard when I was just divorced or when I was a teenager and feeling like I didn't fit in," says Bialik, 45, who's also squeezing in a turn as a guest host on "Jeopardy!" "So, I definitely try and provide that."

Second, Bialik has a Ph.D. in neuroscience earned at UCLA in 2007, 12 years after the end of her NBC sitcom "Blossom," which she starred in as a teen, and three years before her first "Big Bang" appearance. It's not the kind of credit usually seen on an actor's resume.

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"The Big Bang Theory" alum Mayim Bialik, pictured in a scene from Fox's "Call Me Kat," has a new podcast, "Mayim Bialik's Breakdown," that explores mental-health issues.
"The Big Bang Theory" alum Mayim Bialik, pictured in a scene from Fox's "Call Me Kat," has a new podcast, "Mayim Bialik's Breakdown," that explores mental-health issues.

She combines those elements in "Mayim Bialik's Breakdown," a new weekly mental-health podcast she launched on Spotify Jan. 12 that blends discussion of topics such as anxiety, loneliness, addiction and PTSD with Bialik's expertise on the brain and nervous system and their connection to emotions. She created and hosts the podcast with her boyfriend Jonathan Cohen, a writer, poet, father and futurist.

Upcoming guests include "Big Bang" co-star Kunal Nayyar, co-creator Bill Prady and recurring cast member John Ross Bowie; "Kat" co-stars Cheyenne Jackson and Leslie Jordan; and comedian Iliza Shlesinger.

"The podcast is me using my science brain to break down concepts and talk about the myths and misunderstandings that we have about mental health," she says, adding it's especially timely when so many have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and other tumultuous events.

"It's a way to deal with what came up for me this year and what I'm hearing from a lot of people, that even people who had no history of mental health problems were all of a sudden experiencing anxiety," she says.

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For Bialik, who divorced in 2012 and is raising sons Miles, 15, and Frederick, 12, the pandemic has meant adjustments at home, where her family enjoys the company of three cats, Frances, Nermal and Addie.

Her kids have "always been homeschooled, but they definitely miss our social circle of other homeschool families. And they're playing more video games than even they would like to," she says.

Bialik has noted some COVID-19 adjustments on social media, including a Hanukkah commemoration with her sons and ex-husband Michael Stone, held outdoors to protect her mother against coronavirus transmission.

At the same time, "it's been a year of helping my kids understand how fortunate we are that, even in this situation, there are people who literally can't socially distance, even from people in their families or homes who are sick," she says. "So, there's been a lot of conversations about privilege and entitlement and Black Lives Matter."

The podcast is steeped in Bialik's science background, but the new venture and her longtime personal engagement on social media – Twitter, Instagram and her own YouTube channel – is also a matter of faith.

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"Call Me Kat" star Mayim Bialik, left, who has a Ph.D. in neuroscience,  joins fellow actress Geena Davis and fellow scientist Dr. Erin Macdonald for a June 2019 STEM panel in at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California. Bialik has a new podcast, "Mayim Bialik's Breakdown," that uses her scientific knowledge to examine mental-health issues.
"Call Me Kat" star Mayim Bialik, left, who has a Ph.D. in neuroscience, joins fellow actress Geena Davis and fellow scientist Dr. Erin Macdonald for a June 2019 STEM panel in at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California. Bialik has a new podcast, "Mayim Bialik's Breakdown," that uses her scientific knowledge to examine mental-health issues.

"I'm a person driven by a feeling of a spiritual purpose that we're all here to find what we're here for and if I can use that platform to provide people resources or education, I'm very grateful to do it," she says.

"Big Bang" co-star Jim Parsons, who joins Bialik as an executive producer of "Call Me Kat," is "in awe" of his friend's eagerness to engage publicly on so many topics, saying that requires extra intellectual and emotional bandwidth.

"I'm sure it's exhausting and I'm sure there are plenty of things that happened that she's like, 'I really wish I hadn't read that or heard that,' but there's something about her that's able to go on and deal with it," he says. "There's a hunger. She likes to play and participate and she's interested in so much of humanity. It speaks to why she's a top-rated actor along with a neuroscientist."

Bialik tries to bring authenticity to social-media engagement, often appearing without the Hollywood essentials of hairstyling and makeup, "to effectively be myself as much as I can. Also, I find it refreshing to be me in a business where I don't meet a lot of people who are like me in a lot of ways. I hope that for people who are not in the industry, who also might feel different, it might feel good for them to see that we're all just humans having this experience."

She acknowledges some negatives, including "a tendency to feel like you have to share everything" and giving up privacy. "People feel they know you. It opens my kids up to hearing and seeing things about me. (But) I feel like I've been striking a pretty decent balance."

None of that has stopped her, on social media or in her writing, from discussing personal matters, such as raising vegan children or responding to criticism of "Call Me Kat," and topics that can be controversial, such as a book on attachment parenting or a 2017 New York Times essay about being a feminist in Harvey Weinstein's Hollywood that drew accusations of victim-blaming.

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"As a writer, not everyone's going to like what you write or what you think," Bialik says.

As far as mean-spirited remarks, she says, "I'm human. I'm not immune to that, and you can have a million nice comments and then there's one that's really, really horrible and hostile and it's hard to brush it off. So I have had to limit the time that I spend on social media. It's also not good for my mental health, (as it is) for a lot of us, to be on there a lot."

Bialik offers some wisdom for getting the most out of online engagement without being consumed by it: "You can't please everyone, and you definitely can't please them on the internet."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Big Bang Theory' alum Mayim Bialik uses science Ph.D. in new podcast