Jane Fonda has experienced a lot in her 80 years on this earth: career highs and lows, marriages, divorces, motherhood—you name it. But one of the most pivotal moments of her life occurred in 1950 when she was just 12 years old, when her mother Frances Ford Seymour died by suicide.

In a new interview with People, Fonda delves into the emotional trauma she suffered as a result of growing up with a mother who suffered from bipolar disorder—and how she learned to come to terms with it all in adulthood.

“If you have a parent who is not capable of showing up, not capable of reflecting you back through eyes of love, it has a big impact on your sense of self,” she tells the magazine’s editor-in-chief Jess Cagle in the Jess Cagle Exercise on PeopleTV. “As a child, you always think it was your fault…because the child can’t blame the adult, because they depend on the adult for survival. It takes a long time to get over the guilt.”

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Her mother married her father, Henry Fonda, in 1936. They had two children: Jane and Peter. At the age of 42, Frances committed suicide while residing at a mental institution. However, Henry chose to tell his children their mother died of a heart attack. It wasn’t until a year later that Jane found out the truth while reading a movie magazine.

In a previous interview, Fonda revealed that she had refused to see her mother during one of her visits home from the institution shortly before her suicide. So, when she learned the truth about her death, she immediately felt guilty and blamed herself for many years.

Fonda explains that she never really got to know her mother, due to her mental illness. When she eventually accessed her mother’s medical records, she learned about her diagnosis and got to understand her better. In the process she also came to realize something very important—that her mother’s suicide wasn’t her fault.

“When you go through that kind of research…if you can come to answers, which I was able to do, you end up being able to say, ‘It had nothing to do with me,’” she says. “It wasn’t that I wasn’t lovable. They had issues. And the minute you know that, you can feel tremendous empathy for them. And you can forgive.”

Fonda’s message is an important one, because it is a reminder that while there may be warning signs of suicide and steps loved ones can take to lend their support, no one should blame themselves for such a tragedy.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

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Leah Groth
Leah Groth is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in a number of international publications including Glamour, Prevention, Health, VeryWell, Business Insider, and Reader’s Digest. In those rare moments that she isn’t putting words together on her keyboard, you can find her chasing after her two children and hunting dogs, working on her 100-year-old colonial home, or trying out all of the cutting edge gadgets and products she is writing about. She also loves working out and drinking copious amounts of coffee.