Editors Note: #FeelBetter is a social media-driven storytelling campaign about depression in young people. Our youth network created the #FeelBetter campaign with the idea that sharing stories about not only depression but also access to treatment, could begin to break through the stigma that keeps so many young people suffering in silence – and also encourage health coverage enrollment among youth.
Britney Michelle Perkins remembers when the bullying started in second grade. A boy in her class started mocking her because she was overweight.
“I liked him so much. He was my crush,” she says.
Once he threw a ball at her because he thought it would bounce off her body due to her size. Then he laughed about it with his friends.
“That made me hate him and not talk to him anymore. I hoped he would die because I was so mad,” she says.
The boy’s bullying only intensified in middle school.
“He would tease me in class, outside class when I was going to the bathroom when I was going home. He would insult me all the time, “Perkins says.
“I would hear, ‘Oh you’re fat,’ ‘Nobody wants you,’ ‘I wouldn’t date you,’ you’re the last person on Earth that I would ever want,’ she says. “Those comments really got to me.”
So she began fighting back. “I started beating people up. If someone had a problem with the way I looked I didn’t care about hurting them,” she says.
She also started bullying others. “I thought, ‘Okay, if people can hurt my feelings, I can hurt anyone else’s,” she says. “I decided that I was going to be rude to them before they could be rude to me.”
At the time she was being bullied, Perkins did not seek help at school. It wouldn’t have made a difference.
“The school would not have done anything more than tell them to stop or call their parents,” she says. “Meanwhile, everyone said I was going to be fine and that I was going to get over it,”
But things got worse.
“I would just come home so mad. I didn’t understand why people were treating me this way,” she says. “I thought I was such a nice person.”
Over time, she fell into a depression. She began pulling out her hair and isolating herself from friends and family.
“I would sleep all day so that I wouldn’t have to experience all the pain I was feeling,” Perkins says. “If I’d been dying, I wouldn’t have screamed for help because I thought I deserved to die.”
At home, she didn’t share her experiences because her father, whom she calls her best friend, was also struggling with depression.
“He felt as though he was failing me as a daughter, and I did not want to add more pressure,” she says.
Even though Britney did not seek help with her father, she did follow her mother’s advice to find comfort in prayer during difficult situations.
“Before I started praying I would feel hopeless like nothing could save me,” she says. “After I had started praying, I did not feel entirely free [from the hopelessness], but I did feel like I could move on past that point,” she says.
When she started high school, the change in atmosphere helped but her depression continued.
“I had been angry for so long that I didn’t know how to be happy again,” she says. “I’d spent so long hating myself. I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror.”
Throughout the years that Britney dealt with her depression, she refused to seek professional help because she did not think therapy would help her overcome her issues.
“I didn’t want to confide in someone that was getting paid to listen to something I thought was so serious,” she says. “I did not want anyone to think I was crazy and prescribe me medications I did not need.”
She says she’s gained strength over the years, but she still doesn’t let her guard down with others.
“In college, I’ve tried to keep to myself and not make new friends,” she says. “The people I talk to are people I’ve known since ninth grade who helped me through everything.”
She credits her core group of friends with cheering her up and helping her get through her bad days. “They can make me laugh even when tears are rolling down my face,” she says. “They’re always making jokes and then I’m good again.”
These days Britney still copes with depression by staying guarded.
“I keep to myself so that no one knows anything about me, so they can’t bother me,” she says.
She is also shifting her focus towards her future. She is planning on moving to New York and wants to pursue a career in acting.
“I just want to go to the city that never sleeps,” she says. “I want a new start.”
Masculinity & Depression: Why Men Won’t Come Forward
When Alex Villaneda was 15, his father passed away. It began a years-long bout with depression that he felt he could not tell anyone about.
“I felt I must be the only one that feels this way, and I’m weak as a man because everyone else is alright,” Villaneda said.
Last week’s admission by rapper Kendrick Lamar about his struggle with depression and this summer’s suicide of internationally acclaimed comedian Robin Williams, brings the national spotlight to the discussion of depression and its effects on men.
Depression remains widely under-diagnosed in the male population. While men are diagnosed at lower rates than women, men commit suicide at rates that are 4 to 18 times higher than females, depending on the age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Also, suicide rates have seen a sharp rise among Americans. More people now die of suicides than from car accidents.
For many men like Villaneda, depression is a hidden secret that can be further compounded by the stigma associated with manhood.
“We have expectations of manhood that are very rigid,” said Dr. Shira Tarrant, gender studies professor at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB). “These include men don’t cry, they can’t back down and they shouldn’t feel. What that means is when men feel, that’s the equivalent of not being a man. Often, that gets in the way of men coming forward to say I’m depressed or struggling. Hopefully, this is changing.”
It is these notions of masculinity that make it much less likely for men to seek out help.
“Culturally, men have a hard time to even talk about vulnerability, let alone accepting it,” says Mifa Kim, a graduate peer counselor for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at CSULB. “There’s a stigma regarding gender, so we need be mindful of that when we reach the community.”
In addition to rules of masculinity, ethnic, cultural norms can also put added pressure on depressed men.
“As the oldest male in my house, as a Mexican, and a male in general, I couldn’t show any of these feelings,” said Villaneda, who is now an undergraduate peer counselor for Project OCEAN at CAPS. “Being Hispanic adds a whole other layer because of the whole machismo thing where you don’t show emotions at all, not even being happy.”
To cope, he would vent to friends who were women and going through the same thing. Villaneda said he couldn’t talk to his male friends because he was afraid they would just tell him to “man up.”
Villaneda remembers other sensing other men going through similar depression-related issues—in particular, his best friend. Although both were struggling with mental health at the same time, neither reached out to the other for help because of fear of the backlash.
“I trusted him with my life, but I didn’t trust him with my feelings because of the fear of being judged,” Villaneda said. “I could’ve avoided a lot of suffering. I should’ve talked to more people. I should have talked to my mom definitely, but I don’t know if I would have gone to counseling because there’s a stigma still ingrained in my mind.
Villaneda is now working towards helping other people and believes that public education around depression like the “Real Men. Real Depression” project, which features the personal stories of men who have depression that help men feel more comfortable coming forward.
“I’m trying to spread that awareness that it does affect men even if we pretend it doesn’t,” said Villaneda, saying he believes stigma is starting to decrease for men seeking help.
“With the Internet, we have access to the whole world and we see other people talking about depression and going to counseling,” Villaneda said. “So, that openness and sharing of information are going to allow younger generations to start opening up and acknowledging mental health as supposed closing up and think there’s something wrong with you.”