Even with all the strides taken to widen the conversation about mental health, it can still pose to be quite difficult for men to feel like they can open up. In hopes to change that stigma, PEOPLE and Bring Change to Mind, a non-profit organization started by actress Glenn Close, is hosting a four-part virtual panel series on mental health and young people.
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The series kicked off on Monday, May 24, with Billy Porter, Chase Stokes, and more coming together for a panel called Men and Mental Health, in hopes of making that change through frank conversations about their own mental health struggles.
Led by Jane the Virgin's Justin Baldoni, also joining Porter and Stokes for the panel - Orange is the New Black's Matt McGorry, and Las Vegas Raiders' defensive tackle Solomon Thomas.
Delving right into the discussion, Stokes opened up about the ups and downs of the last two years. "I feel like with every high I've hit,” speaking about his career, "there's been a major low.” Explaining that his beloved grandmother died right after he booked Outer Banks, his breakthrough role. "It was this weird counter-experience, where I didn't know how to process her death, nor did I have a space to process it due to a fear of failure with work," he said.
In no way belittling any of these life challenges, here is the condensed version of Chase’s harrowing year. Outer Banks premiered in April 2020, as most of the country was stuck at home, which boded well for the show’s instant cult like popularity. However, made it difficult to celebrate its success. To make matters worse, just three days after its release Stokes' cousin overdosed, then later on last year, after he moved to Los Angeles, he lost a close friend to cancer, and then his uncle died.
"I have hit serious lows through this, and have had questions of my sanity, and been concerned with my stability. And I didn't know how to ask for help, initially," Stokes admitted. "I ended up going in for therapy and it was the best thing I could've done for myself. It's an ongoing battle, which is the most important thing for me to remember.”
Thomas then shared that he was nearly suicidal after being pushed to the limits of his mental health. "I lost my sister to suicide in 2018… and as a man, as a football player, I thought that I had to be tough for my mom and dad, I thought I had to be tough for everyone around me, and I thought that being tough was just pushing through everything," he said. "I got to a place where it was harder to live than it was to not be here.”
Coming to the realization that he needed help, Thomas figured out that he was only holding back from reaching out due to the stigma around men and mental health. "Once I finally got help it changed my life," he said.
Porter, who’s been a longtime advocate for speaking up and destigmatizing the topic of mental health, shared that working on his mental health has helped lead to major changes for the better from earlier in his life. Expressing, “we used to not be able to.”
Stokes encouraged people to reach out for help, regardless of the stigma. Saying, “Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, because it's okay not to be okay sometimes.”
Likewise, Audacy’s I’m Listening initiative aims to encourage those who are dealing with mental health issues to understand they are not alone. If you or anyone you know is struggling with depression or anxiety, know that someone is always there. Additionally, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-273-8255.
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