NEW YORK – The irony has not escaped Lorraine Bracco (search). For five seasons as psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Melfi on HBO's "The Sopranos" (search), the actress has battled mob boss Tony Soprano's mental demons. But for a year and a half in real life, Bracco was fighting clinical depression with medication and therapy.
"If you break your leg, you have it fixed," Bracco, 50, recently told The Associated Press. "If you have a toothache, you go to the dentist. When it comes to mental health, people tend to think they can just get over it."
Bracco's ready to talk about her fight with depression in hopes of knocking out stigmas about antidepressants and their effects. The mother of two went to drug manufacturer Pfizer in hopes of getting the word out, which she'll do with a series of commercials and a Web site — www.depressionhelp.com — that goes live on Tuesday.
"I don't blame anything or anyone," said Bracco. "I think it was lack of education about medication. I thought if I need medication, I must be really sick."
Bracco acknowledges she wasn't feeling too keen after battling for custody of daughter Stella with ex-husband and actor Harvey Keitel, dealing with Stella's juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and declaring bankruptcy after splitting with actor Edward James Olmos.
"I just had a lot of really big things that kept pounding me and I would let all these things rule my life instead of my dreams and wishes," said Bracco. "I was doing everything. I was being a good mommy. The laundry was done. They had food. They were driven to school and extracurricular activities, but I was joyless in it. It just became a chore for me."
Looking back, Bracco said she was dealing with depression for over a decade. It wasn't until 1997, after she'd been cast in "The Sopranos," that she followed the suggestion of a friend to seek professional help.
"I was very afraid to go on any kind of medication because I was afraid it was going to dull me, which is not true," said Bracco. "I think a lot of people think you'll become a zombie."
But antidepressants didn't hinder Bracco's performance in "Sopranos," and she eventually escaped the depression.
"I was on the medication for a year and a half and went into the doctor's office and said, 'I don't really need this anymore,'" said Bracco. "I haven't been taking it for five years, six years."
If the story ended here, it'd be a happy ending for Bracco. She bought a house in the Hamptons. Stella's in college. Bracco goes back to shooting the sixth season of "Sopranos" in April. And she's been dating 30-year-old former Syracuse University basketball player Jason Cipolla for almost three years.
"A good relationship doesn't hurt anybody," said Bracco. "Let's be fair, younger or older. That's been very nice for me."