Actor Goldie Hawn, fierce advocate for children’s mental health, is Women of the Year honoree

Goldie Hawn, actress and founder of MindUP and The Goldie Hawn Foundation.

Goldie Hawn is one of USA TODAY’s Women of the Year, a recognition of women who have made a significant impact in their communities and across the country. Meet this year’s honorees at

Our kids are having a mental health crisis.

From 2016 to 2020, there was a 26% rise of depression and anxiety among kids 3 to 17 in the U.S.

The U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, issued an advisory on kids' mental health in 2021.

"Since the pandemic began, anxiety, depression, loneliness and negative emotions and behaviors have increased among young people," he wrote for USA TODAY.

"Imagine a high school with 1,000 students. Now imagine about 450 of them saying they are persistently sad or hopeless, 200 saying they’ve seriously considered suicide, and nearly 100 saying they’ve tried to end their own life over the past year. That is the state of youth mental health in America."

He urges that we need to "ensure the mental health of our children is as much a priority as their grades – recognizing that the two are deeply intertwined."

Goldie Hawn is on it. In fact, helping kids manage stress and understand their emotions has been her cause since 2003, when she launched MindUP for Life, a program that help schools, teachers and parents teach kids the science behind their brains, the chemical reactions that drive emotions.

She was driven to help after the attacks of 9/11, knowing the trauma they would cause, especially in kids. She wanted to give kids the tools to understand how trauma impacts the brain, how to regulate their emotions, how to build resilience. The program, created in partnership with researchers and scientists, now serves children, parents and educators in 47 countries.

The Academy Award-winning actor – who is also a dancer, producer and singer – says this may be the most important chapter of her life.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

We’ve all become more aware of mental health issues, especially among young people. What got you started down this path?

I gravitate towards children. I think there's a part of me that (identifies) with them, because they have a sense of joy. So I created this program for children that was based on happiness, basically.

What I wanted for them was to have some understanding of their brain, because, ultimately, every time I looked at more research about happiness, it all happens there. That's how they learn. It's how they motivate themselves. It's how they feel better. I just wanted children to find a way to manage their emotions in a way that was scientific.

My passion has not diminished at all. You see what's going on with children, you see how they can actually take charge of their lives and understand that this emotion is something that I can quell, I can quiet my mind, so they know their executive function can go back online, and they can think better and they can make better decisions. They're in second and third and fourth grade and they're telling you all these little parts of their brain. It's really great.

Part of your program involves three-minute ‘brain breaks.’ Can you explain what that is?

A brain break is something that's basically to quiet your mind. We learn in the classroom that every brain needs a break, and it's true. We don't know this as adults, you have to realize your brain gets tired and sometimes your brain is overly emotional and sometimes you're just ruminating a problem, right?

Children are no different. They love the brain break because it quiets them down. When you get quiet, and you breathe, and we teach them that breathing is very important, because it affects the brain, it relaxes everything. So when they do the breathing, which is all scientific, everything is neurologically connected, then they're able to think, and they override their hijacking emotions. They're able to manage themselves. These kids love it.

Goldie Hawn launched MindUP for Life, a program that help schools, teachers and parents teach kids the science behind their brains, the chemical reactions that drive emotions.
Goldie Hawn launched MindUP for Life, a program that help schools, teachers and parents teach kids the science behind their brains, the chemical reactions that drive emotions.

There’s a lot going on in the classroom. When a teacher reaches out and wants to put a program like this in their class, how do they make room for it?

The reality is this: When you quiet your classroom down, when you have your brain breaks during the day, you buy time. That means that you can teach longer, better, with a quieter classroom, less anxiety, more ability to relate, and so you actually have more time in the classroom.

What advice do you have for other women who are looking at different chapters in their life?

We forget to savor time, to savor moments of joy. I don't mean to sound like I'm a preacher, but I couldn't live without that. What happens is that often times, we want to win at the game. We want to make sure that we get the most, we get to the top, we get the money we need, we get the place to live we need, we need the thing we need. Then we have children and now we're hijacked by all the love we have to give to them. But underneath all of it, it's us. It's us singly. I need to nurture my soul, myself.

When you relax and the brain calibrates and you get calm, the right part of the brain starts to create. So that's when you have these ideas that come in. Sometimes it's hard to dream when you're stressed, when your relationship isn't going well, when there's issues around your work or your children. There's a lot of issues to be dealt with, but we can never forget about us and nurturing us.

Goldie Hawn, actress and founder of MindUP and The Goldie Hawn Foundation.

You sound very mentally healthy. Have you always been this centered and grounded?

I've always been happy by nature. I have kind of a little tickle in my heart. I do. I can feel it. So maybe that's when that crazy, old giggle comes out. However, I did lose it, and I lost it when suddenly I was taken out of the chorus and put into the acting world and the whole thing was just so fast and so crazy, and I didn't do well with the transition.

I was always going to go home, get married and open a dancing school. I did have a plan. And I was going to be very happy. To me, that was a great life. I was a dance teacher at 17 and 18 and that was a happy moment for me.

I did lose my smile and I did go to a doctor because I was having panic attacks. I didn't know where they were coming from. And I know people who have them and have this sort of mental condition are really, really working hard to try to get rid of it. And it's not always easy. And I nipped it in the bud. I needed a doctor right away. I was only 21, maybe 22 at the most.

So for me, the worst thing that ever happened to me were these panic attacks. And the best thing that ever happened to me were these panic attacks. I would've never been able to get down into my truth, my soul, my being. I would never have been able to understand about what it was to be successful. Success is a come-and-go kind of thing. People are just coming at you with all kinds of opinions, good and bad, I learned that really nobody knew me, that only I could know myself.

Actress and comedian Goldie Hawn is seen on June 16, 1972, in the TV show "Laugh-In."

Do you have a proudest moment in your life or in your career?

I don't like pride, but I have one that's outstanding. When I was 18, I went to summer stock and I was dancing, but everybody got to audition for Shakespeare.

So we did Shakespeare. And I really wanted to play Juliet. I worked on it at home. I was just out of high school and I auditioned. And no one could believe in me because I was a dancer, and I was like, you know, joyful and giggly and all this stuff. And I got the part. And I then remember that I was in the middle of a huge amphitheater for 4,000 people. And this is a young brain, boy, I learned the whole thing in two weeks.

And now I'm doing the potion speech where she takes the vial and dies, and it starts to rain. And now in this amphitheater, it started to rain and nobody moved. It was amazing. I'm thinking, "Oh my God, it's raining." I'm thinking I should keep going or whatever. I finished the show. And my father came up to me and he said, "Goldie, where did you learn to do that?" And then he had to turn around because he was crying. "Where did you learn to do that?" That was probably a moment in my life that I'll never forget.

On the other side, is there a lowest moment that you’ve learned from or that you’d want to share?

Probably my lowest moment was when I lost my mother and father. I would say that took me a long time to get over. That's just primal. And there's just a lot of love there, a lot of everything.

When I lost my dad, he was my best friend. And that was really hard. And then I lost my mom years and years and years later and I was an orphan. And it doesn't matter how old you are, you're still an orphan because nobody will love you the way they do.

Tell me your definition of courage, and is there a time you felt like you had great courage?

To be brave and have courage is to step out of your comfort zone and just do it. I've done that with various things in my life. I was a dancer and I said yes to a job that took me into the next stage of my life. If I hadn't said yes, I wouldn't have been there.

It's important I think in many ways to welcome the future and not be afraid of it. And don't be afraid of yourself because we have way more potential than we think.

Do you have a guiding principle that you live by?

My guiding principle is truth. My mother used to say, I can't handle a lie. And truth is far better. She's right. But truth in many ways. Truth to being true to myself, truth in being who you are in a relationship, to be able to declare who you are and what you want and what you don't want. Making movies, there were things that would happen, and I looked at things and I went, "This isn't right." And I spoke out. Did people like it? Not always. There's a lot of manipulation that goes on in every business. And when you see it, you call it. Nicely, but you call it. I can't live without truth.

Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn arrive at the Vanity Fair post-Oscar bash at Morton's in West Hollywood, Calif., on Monday, March 25, 1996.

Who paved the way for you?

Life. I was a dancer. And I danced since the age of 3. So, that's all I knew. I was fearless at 19, went to New York City and ended up on 10th Avenue with a suitcase and I was supposed to stay with somebody, and they weren't there.

I'm thinking, where am I going to stay in New York now? I just got here and I went to my dance teacher there, and I stayed with him for a few days until I found an apartment. It's just crazy stuff, but you just believe. But the path that I took then was just the unfolding, but I didn't say no. Everything in New York was crazy, but I didn't run home to my mom and dad. I didn't run home. I literally stayed the course.

Do you still dance?

I dance through my house. I dance in my workout room, and I also work on aspects of my dancing. I stretch every day. I jump on my trampoline every day. I lift weights so my workout is rounded out, and then I'll put music on and I'll just dance freely. I think I dance through life.

You talked about what paved the way for you. Who are you paving the wave for?

Oh, I have no idea. Everything for me is just a path I take step by step to do things that I believe are important to me and end up sometimes being important to others. I don't know. Women, for sure. I think to understand that ageism is something you should just put away. You can't do that. You can't keep telling yourself, oh, I'm 40. Oh God, I'm 50. Don't do it. It's not helpful. We have no idea where we're going to go, what's going to happen. Life is a journey. It's exciting, and you have to look at it that way, otherwise you're going to be unhappy, because age is a real thing. I think Hollywood's still dealing with age. I just sat with my 99-year-old aunt, and she is as smart, and quick, and funny, and fun to be around and alive as you are.

You mentioned ageism. You mentioned barriers for women. What are some specific ways you get involved in advancing equality, and what can others do as well?

You have to have empathy and then you can understand the importance of being equal. We're all different. But I think we have to start looking at a deeper part of humanity, which is, "Who are we? Who do we care about? How are we nurturing ourselves?"

You have said that kindness is contagious and bad moods are contagious. Talk about that.

We are emotionally contagious. If I'm hanging out with people who are sad or misanthropic or Eeyore, I'll get like that because that's how people are. They get contagion of emotion. If I hang out with happy people, they're laughing all the time. It's great. I feel so good. I will be happier, too. If I hang out with somebody who eats things that are not necessarily healthy, we will do that, too. It's natural. It's the same with politics. It's the same with anything that creates some level of emotion. Angry people, you could end up being angry, too. It's all who we are around. That's the nature of our mind. It's who we are. It's how we fit in. We get connected.

Looking back, what advice would you give maybe that fifth-grade Goldie, a younger version of yourself?

If you're sad, tell someone. If you are hurting, tell someone. If you're scared, share that. Don't live inside your secrets by yourself. It's OK to not feel well. It's OK to be scared. It's OK. All these emotions are normal. We are emotional beings, period. When you understand and recognize your emotion, and you share it with someone, oftentimes it can actually dissipate a little bit. I was scared to death (of the atomic bomb). I thought I was going to die. I never thought I would ever live to kiss a boy, to tell you the truth.

I was scared, but I let my mom know that. I let the school know that. Every time I heard a siren ... I was young. I was 10 or something. I would pick up the phone and talk to the operator and ask her if this was an enemy attack, because my mom was working. (She would say), "No dear, it's fine." We need to put humanity back in the human.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Actor, advocate Goldie Hawn is a USA TODAY Women of the Year honoree