Millions of people across Britain will know Chizzy Akudolu as ‘Holby City’s’ fun and bubbly Mo Effanga – but her personal life was a different story. Now, the actress shares the journey through some of her darkest days.
HAPPY: Chizzy Akudolu is feeling better than ever after a period of depression
People out there will say to me, ‘Chizzy, why don’t you just cheer up?’ And I wish it was as simple as that.”
Those are the words of actress Chizzy Akudolu – better known for her charismatic character Mo Effanga on the BBC drama, Holby City. Akudolu has opened up about her mental health struggles, and how her personal and professional life began to collide.
“The depression kind of manifested itself while I was working at Holby City. I never thought I’d ever be affected by depression. I’m very much about seeing the bright side of everything and trying to stay positive but it was really pulling me down,” she said.
“It was the all the crying that I was so confused about,” she reveals.
“We all have times when we feel a bit low, but when I couldn’t stop crying is when I realised there was something wrong.
“I was really lucky to be working at the time because if I hadn’t been working I probably would’ve just stayed at home, crying, sleeping and carrying on in that way. Because I had to get up and go to work, it meant I had to deal with it. That’s when I was diagnosed by the BBC doctor for having depression, and it was an interesting time.”
The actress got her start in the industry after a string of appearances in TV and theatre. “I started off as an extra on a show called Bad Girls and then I entered a competition that were looking for comedic performers to do a pilot show.
“We ended up doing a live show at the Tabernacle Theatre in Notting Hill. That was for an invited audience including the comedy department at the BBC and that’s how I got my agent and the rest is history.”
While Akudolu comes from a pretty creative family – her brother started off as an actor and her sister is an aerialist – she always had a key passion for acting and the determination to take it further.
“It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do but I just never really had the opportunity to do it,” she said.
That opportunity came knocking for Akudolu, when she got her big break on Holby City, playing the role of Mo Effanga for five years.
“Mo was always written as a warm character and that is very much myself,” she says.
“What’s interesting in Holby is that the characters always have the ability to mould to you. I always wanted Mo to be a bit comical because I’m quiet comical, and I just felt the show could do with that as well.
“So they started to write her as a comedy character even though she’s still quite strong and professional, and they agreed to bring a lot of myself into the role. So Mo became quite like me – but with a medical degree.”
While Akudolu enjoyed five successful years at Holby City, things started to take a turn as her personal struggles began to take effect, and she decided to leave the show.
“There was so much stuff going on outside of Holby City, that I just felt I needed a change. I still love the show and it was really sad for me to leave.”
As Akudolu’s depression began to manifest itself at work, she realised the importance of talking about mental health struggles and opening up that dialogue to the people around her.
“I shared my depression with very close friends of mine and at work, because I would be sitting in the make-up chair and I would start crying. After a while they started to ask what’s going on? And I would say I don’t know and when I was diagnosed, I did tell my parents, my family and they were very surprised.”
“But no one in my life has treated me any differently because they love me,” she affirms.
“However, I know the stigma does exist with mental health and there’s a few people who’ve said to me, ‘What have you got to be depressed about?’
“I think it’s important to talk about it and let people know that it can happen to anyone – even someone who’s bubbly and outgoing like myself and it’s nothing to be ashamed about.”
As the talented actress continues to spread the word on mental health, she offers a few words of advice on changing the stigma surrounding it.
“We just need to have those conversations and I think people do need to come forward so that we can educate the people who don’t necessarily understand it.”
Meanwhile, Akudolu is moving forward and focusing on her creative endeavours post-Holby City.
“I plan on going to America to meet some agents and just a lot of work, hopefully. This industry is interesting – you can be unemployed one week and gainfully employed the next. So I don’t know what’s coming next week but I’m excited and positive about it. More work and more fun.”
Written by Leah Sinclair
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