Hayden Panettiere: Being Honest About Postpartum Depression Struggle Is a ‘Weight Off My Shoulders’

01/18/2016 at 10:45 AM ET

Hayden Panettiere has been in the limelight for nearly two decades, but says walking the red carpet is “so new” again after undergoing treatment for postpartum depression.

“It feels different for me because of things that I’ve gone through recently, over the last year,” the Nashville star told PEOPLE exclusively on the red carpet for the Critics’ Choice Awards. “I’ve really gone, ‘You know what, I’ve been in this industry for so long, forget it!’ I’ve been hiding myself. Just putting out the smiling face, showing people this, and allowing that veil to come down — it’s like a weight off my shoulders.”

She adds, “I’m 26 years old. I’m a mom. I don’t need to be afraid of what people are going to think. I saw how much people rallied behind me when I was honest, and I didn’t know that honesty could be such a gift.”

Sunday night marked Panettiere’s first U.S. red carpet appearance since entering treatment in October, and the actress says she enjoyed walking in front of the cameras “so much more because I don’t feel like I have to hide anymore.”

Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

After welcoming daughter Kaya Evdokia in December 2014 with fiancé Wladimir Klitschko, Panettiere said she felt scared. Choosing to be open about her struggle has helped, though, she contends.

“Honestly, when I said [I had PPD] the first time on Kelly and Michael I didn’t plan on it,” she says. “We talked about it for a second, but it was just like a conversation, and I was like, ‘Why should I be ashamed or hide when it costs so much?’ It costs me so much to hide. It costs you so much to lie.”

Panettiere has used her own personal journey to address the stigma surrounding PPD, and tells PEOPLE that “there is no overcoming” the often negative sentiment.

“The only important thing to me is that I’m not causing myself pain and discomfort anymore, and I can be a strong woman for my daughter to look up to,” she says. “It would horrible for me to be going, ‘You can be whomever you want! You can do whatever you want in life!’ yet I was unable to follow the same words.”

As she tells E! News, “I was floored by the positive response. I’m really happy that I can stand up for the women who are out there suffering from this and let them know it’s okay. They’re not alone. It doesn’t mean they’re weak. It doesn’t mean they’re a bad mom. It doesn’t mean they’re strange. They can get help if they need it, and that’s okay.”

– Lindsay Kimble with reporting by Reagan Alexander

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Shannon on

Good for you Hayden! You look great!

Nava on

I love her for sharing this. There’s a huge stigma attached to PPD. This idea that your a mom, you’ve just given birth and you have to be an emotional rock for this new baby and you can’t fall apart. It doesn’t always work out that way and there’s nothing shameful about needing a helping hand in a time of need.

Anonymous on

She looks great! Glad she got the help she needed and being so open about her struggles.

Kate Middleman on

Can’ have been an easy journey but so grateful to her for being honest and shining a light on this condition. It’s so common and really needed to come out into the open. She looks marvelous!

Meena on

Proud of this young woman.

Rain on

She looks great. Nice to see her doing very good.

Olay on

Kudo to her for being outspoken and honest about her past struggle.

Jax on

Good for her! She looks fantastic!

Jubby15 on

I’d be curious to know if she is going to, or has already, share exactly what she did to get over her depression. Was it meds, and if so which ones, therapy, both, or something else? There are tons of misconceptions about mental illness gets treated and what works best, so it would be interesting to hear more details, if she is willing to share, that is. She seems to have made a speedy and full recovery so sharing her method could maybe gives others hope and help?

mary spencer on

She looks amazing, always loved her work, seems so genuine. Good luck to her and her family.

haroldamaio on

She sees it as “honest”, I see it as open.

Lene on

As someone who has also gone through PPD I salute you Hayden.. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy..

Kendall on

Thank you, Hayden. Thank you.

Me on

Weight off her shoulders and onto her chest

Nancy on

Depression is real. If the chemicals in your brain go haywire and cause depression it is just like any other medical chemical imbalance. If your thyroid isn’t working properly there is medication for that. If your pancreas doesn’t work as it should there is treatment for that. There is also medical and psychological treatments when your body chemistry runs amok after child birth. Hopefully the more this condition is brought out in the open, the less stigma it will carry. The people that suffer depression are not to blame. For most, fixing the chemical imbalance and helping them understand what is happening is a huge step towards “back to normal”.

Emlow on

I really don’t like that dress.

MardiGras on

I appreciate her openness on this subject. It should be noted that there are women who go through depression/anxiety while they are pregnant. Not everyone’s pregnancy is a glowing happy time. More open and honest discussion about that as well as more talk about PPD need to happen. I went to a therapist at the medical facility where I gave birth to my daughter for my whole pregnancy every other week. His appointment book was filled with pregnant women and post partum women. Until I was in his office I never knew other women could have the same issues as me since the common portrait of pregnant women were smiling happy ladies. Mental health issues affect all types of people and shouldn’t be a hush hush topic. So many people were uncomfortable when I would mention I was in therapy or when they would ask, “How are you? You look like you’re beaming!” and I would say,”I’m having a rough day today but thank you.”. Get rid of the stigma!

Tee on

I think it’s wonderful that Hayden has been open about her issues with PPD. It carries a stigma for no good reason and celebrities speaking out about it will help reduce that stigma. Praying for continued healing for her and so thankful she got good care!

Yaya on

She looks absolutely stunning! I love her dress and I truly respect her for her honesty.

mer on

I believe it is amazing and very important that women share these stories and experiences. That way we can all see that it’s not all that pink and easy and they can see they are not alone.

Linda on

Glad she´s feeling better, good for her and her family!
I like the dress, what I don´t like is it being so open on the chest:(

Robin on

Glad she’s feeling better, but unfortunately, the top half of her dress she wore to The Critics Choice Awards is not very flattering. Showing too much boob and they looked squished into the dress.

lovely123 on

PPD is not something that should be taken lightly. The word “afterbirth” should have more meaning. Crazy thoughts come into many new moms brains during this period. It is not fun, and very scary. Even worse to try and talk to someone because you might come across as a crazy person. I had it for 2 weeks. Thank goodness it was so short, but it was truly scary, and a dark place.

Dr. leroy Poop on

She looked better without her Tori SPelling implants.

Xia on

She looks great! Good for her.

Ava on

It’s great when any woman, yet one with such talent, comes forward to say: I’ve learned the principles of coping and I have a tool box and tools for the future challenges. Openness about growing, and becoming our own person encourages self respect, confidence, and personal enrichment. There’s a secret: Sometimes there’s more than one pearl in an oyster. Go Girl!

Anonymous on

Good for her!

Vol on

She looks fantastic. Loved her dress.

Carolyn on

I have a lot of respect for her for being open about her struggle. Kudos to you Hayden!

Sally on

Yes she is the best!