Association News
Actress's On-Screen Image Masked Long Struggle With Mental Illness
Psychiatric News
Volume 44 Number 12 page 13-27

For five years, between 1969 and 1974, Maureen McCormick was perfect—at least on screen.

Those were the years she played Marcia Brady on the iconic 1970s family sitcom "The Brady Bunch." Marcia, the oldest sister in a blended family of three girls and three boys, had it all going on.

"She was the older sister who could always get the boy and could always figure out what her brothers and her sisters and her mother and father needed," McCormick recalled at APA's 2009 annual meeting last month in San Francisco. "She was just perfect. And I think in some ways the public has always perceived me as perfect, has always perceived me as Marcia Brady." FIG1

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Maureen McCormick candidly discusses how she overcame the mental health problems she experienced in her post-"Brady" years. 

Credit: David Hathcox

McCormick was the guest at this year's Conversations event, sponsored by the American Psychiatric Foundation. She was interviewed by James Nininger, M.D., a director of the foundation and an APA trustee. She also spoke separately with Psychiatric News.

That perception was a burden to bear, particularly as the real-life Maureen felt herself to be far from perfect. And in time, the distance between her charmed TV sitcom alter ego and the realities of her own life began to be overwhelming.

Today, McCormick has published an account of those realities—including a once-secret family history of mental illness; her own struggles with mental illness, including addiction and compulsive destructive behavior; and her treatment and recovery with the help of psychiatry—in Here's the Story: Surviving Marcia Brady and Finding My True Voice (HarperCollins).

"It felt really good to come out and be able to say, 'This is me, this is my past, and this is who I am and what I am today,'" she told Psychiatric News. "I thought it was important to write my story because I feel for years I had been hiding a lot of secrets. Those secrets made me extremely uncomfortable, since I was presenting one person to the public while there was this other person inside who was really suffering.

"I thought it was really good to come out and talk about [mental illness]. I don't think we hear enough about it. There is still a huge stigma attached to having a mental illness. The more people who are out there talking about it, the more we are not going to feel alone. I know that for years and years I felt alone while I was growing up, because no one talked about depression or obsessive-compulsive disorders or any of the things I was experiencing."

McCormick, in her book, holds back little. She writes about a trove of family secrets: her grandmother's death in a psychiatric hospital, her grandfather's suicide a week later, and her mother's being born with syphilis trasmitted from her mother.

And she chronicles a downward slide into depression, drug addiction, and destructive sexual behavior and a series of short-lived experimental therapies.

In 1997 she was diagnosed with depression and began receiving psychiatric medication—not without great apprehension. "I had a drug problem with cocaine for years and years," she told Psychiatric News." And when I got off that, I didn't want to get on any other drugs [for fear of getting addicted]. And there was so much stigma attached."

She still encounters that stigma within her own family. "Even my father and a brother think I'm on mind-altering drugs," she said.

But six weeks into her treatment with Prozac, she began to feel relief of a kind she had not known for years. "It happened so gradually that one day I noticed I didn't feel jittery and unfocused," she wrote in her book." Actually, I realized that I felt good.

"And once that happened, it was like a wonderful awakening, as if I'd been rewired in such a way that I no longer felt the pain and fear that had given a foreboding texture to my life since I was a teenager."

She also recounted the effect on her of the death of Robert Reed, the actor who played the father on "The Brady Bunch."

Reed, who died in 1992, had lived a closeted homosexual life and was suffering from AIDS when he died in 1992 from cancer. "That was a huge event for me," McCormick said. "He was hiding who he was, and I know it must have been very difficult for him. Now I know."

The response to her book, McCormick said, has been "amazingly positive." She is married and the mother of a 20-year-old daughter, and she continues to be active in the entertainment industry. There is talk of a movie being made of her book.

Does she have a message to the psychiatrists who helped her get to where she is today?

"Thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing what you do," she said. "You saved my life." ▪

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Maureen McCormick candidly discusses how she overcame the mental health problems she experienced in her post-"Brady" years. 

Credit: David Hathcox

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