Mariel Hemingway's famous grandfather, the writer Ernest Hemingway, was treated for a wound he received on the Italian battlefront in World War I with a hot bath, a dose of castor oil, a cocktail, and eggnog. Today the 50-year-old actress is advocating for a dose of more modern, softer pick-me-ups, but their connection to legitimate health care is no less questioned.
Hemingway, perhaps best remembered for her role in Woody Allen’s Manhattan in 1979, advised a Capitol Hill audience on Thursday about the importance of massage, meditation, yoga, and other activities that can help reduce stress.
The event hosted by Reps. Thomas Petri, R-Wis., and Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., was part of a push for the upcoming “Wellness Week,” March 19-25, when spas, gyms, and yoga studios nationwide will provide discounts and promote habits for sound physical and mental health.
Hemingway’s genetics sparked her interest in mental-health issues. After seven suicides in her family over four generations (including her grandfather’s death from a self-inflicted shotgun wound on July 2, 1961 – just five months before Mariel was born), she feared she was plagued with “the Hemingway curse” of depression.
“I spent my whole life trying to survive crazy,” she said in an interview after the event. “I’ve been running from crazy since I was a little girl.”
Hemingway added: “I was so worried that I’d wake up one day, and I’d be, like, a nut job. Now what I realize is that I’m not that person.”
She said she treats her tendency toward depression by focusing on every aspect of her health, what she defines as wellness. An advocate at Thursday’s event pointed out that the word "wellness" is included 98 times in the Affordable Care Act.
“That is not enough times,” Woolsey shouted from the back of the room.
Last April, the House voted to strip the Affordable Care Act of a fund that would give $15 billion over 10 years to communities for projects like bike trails, healthy-eating classes, and smoking-cessation counseling. The Prevention and Public Health Fund, as it is known, is also available to yoga studios or wellness centers that choose to apply. House Republicans argued the funds were wasteful, though their move was later blocked by the Senate.
“Does placing signage for bike paths produce economic activity, or does advocating higher soda taxes benefit the economy?” Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., asked during debate last spring.
Even President Obama, who once called preventive care “one of the best ways to keep our people healthy and our costs under control,” proposed cuts to the Prevention and Public Health Fund in his deficit proposal in September.
But with or without congressional support, Hemingway said, Americans can take steps to improve their own health simply by being educated.
“When my grandfather was feeling down, F. Scott Fitzgerald said, ‘Here, have a whiskey.’ Now we know that alcohol is the worst thing for us if we’re depressed,” Hemingway said.
She asked attendees to sign a pledge to eat a healthy breakfast, take time to move during the day, hydrate, eat colorful meals, find a balanced sleep routine, “embrace the power of touch,’ and enjoy 10 minutes of silence every day.