Supernatural Stars Blow Mental Health Stigma Out Of The Water

Supernatural Stars Blow Mental Health Stigma Out Of The Water

This fan-favorite show made headlines when its star got real about mental health.

You may or may not know it, but October 10th was World Mental Health Day. It's a day dedicated to raising awareness and understanding all things relating to, you guessed it, mental health. For many, it's just a social media holiday. You re-tweet something heartfelt and you feel like you contributed. But for those with mental illnesses, World Mental Health Day is every day. It's with you always, not just when society acknowledges it. And it can affect anyone. Seriously. Anyone.

Plenty of actors have been candid about their mental health experiences, including "Supernatural" star Jared Padalecki. "Supernatural" is a paranormal drama about two brothers and their relentless fight against all that goes bump in the night, starring Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles. Over 13 seasons, the show has developed a cult following.

In March 2015, Padalecki started a movement. What started as a t-shirt campaign to benefit mental health charities soon swelled into something bigger.

Image Credit: Jared Padalecki

What is this movement, you ask?

Always Keep Fighting.

And what does this mean, exactly?

That no matter what comes your way- you make a choice to carry on. Your life is worth living. And you are worth fighting for.

In a 2015 interview with People magazine, Padalecki said, "People who are dealing with depression and addiction or suicidal thoughts or mental illness...they’re strong. You’re strong because you’ve been in this fight and you wake up thinking you’re going to beat it again today."

The campaign raised $250,000 and went viral. Fans began purchasing shirts for those who could not afford it. Even those without a shirt began using #AlwaysKeepFighting to share their own struggles. This was one of the most notable instances of fans carrying on the charitable efforts of the cast.

Image Credit: Jared Padalecki

Six campaigns followed and thousands of shirts were sold, establishing The Pack Fund. This donor-advised fund gives grants to organizations such as To Write Love on Her Arms, Attitudes in Reverse, Random Acts, The Wounded Warrior Project, and St. Jude's. This campaign was crucial in the development of the SPNFamily Crisis Support Network, an initiative by Ackles and co-star Misha Collins. The network trains volunteers in mental health crisis support and pairs them with fans in need. This campaign's slogan was You Are Never Alone, and at the end of the campaign, over 10,000 shirts had been sold and 1,500 fans had volunteered.

Image Credit: Random Acts

In addition to starting a movement, the stars were among the first to coin the term #SPNFamily (abbreviation for Supernatural), to describe the family-like nature of their fans.The idea spread like wildfire amongst the community and is now used to refer to the fandom.

Things did not stop there. In Fall 2015, fans attending a "Supernatural" convention in New Jersey raised $1,500 for Attitudes in Reverse. They have also started messaging boards for fans to share their experiences and continue to support each other.

The community has only grown stronger since. Fans are known to comfort each other (even if they are total strangers!) online and in person and to offer all the help they can to multiple causes. It is not uncommon to see social media users to use #SPNFamily to raise awareness for their own causes because the family will always help.

Co-star Misha Collins started the charity Random Acts in 2009, an organization dedicated to promoting acts of kindness worldwide. To date, Random Acts has donated thousands of dollars towards the education of children in Nicaragua and Haiti, as well as helped build a school. They also offer funding to a multitude of fan-proposed projects.

Another campaign was started by former co-star Genevieve Padalecki (Ruby the demon and Jared's wife!) to benefit Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Project in honor of the birth of their daughter.

Image Credit: Genevieve Padalecki

The most recent SPNFamily effort has been to aid those affected by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, called Stronger Than Storms. Ackles and his wife Danneel launched a crowdfunding page through their brewery, The Family Business Beer Company. To date, the effort has raised over $450,000. Since then, the Padaleckis have launched another campaign with Pop & Suki to benefit the fund.

Image Credit: Family Business Beer Co.

The impact of the #SPNFamily is immeasurable. What started as one person's desire to spread awareness has impacted countless lives and cemented a legacy.

If you remember nothing else from this article, know this. If you are suffering from a mental illness- you do not have to suffer alone. Help is available, and people want to help you.

Always Keep Fighting.

If you or someone you know is struggling, these hotlines may be of help:

National Suicide Prevention Hotline:

The Trevor Project:

Crisis Text Line:
Text "START" to 741-741

1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)

Cover Image Credit: Flickr

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It's Time We Talked About Bipolar Disorder

No, I'm not always happy one minute and then sad the next.

When most people hear the word “bipolar” they may instantly think of someone who is happy one minute and then sad the next, but unfortunately the disorder is more complex than just happiness and sadness. Bipolar also includes agitation, irritability, suicidal thoughts, crying spells, anxiety, panic attacks, and much more.

Bipolar disorder is characterized as a mental illness in which a person experiences episodes of mania/hypomania and major depression. These episodes may vary from person to person in intensity and duration. Those that live with the disorder usually take medications to manage their moods. Bipolar disorder heavily affects a person’s energy levels, moods, and sleeping schedule.

After years of experiencing major depression, I began to notice myself having strange outbursts of energy that lasted for days at a time. By the time I was a sophomore in high school, my little outbursts became more rapid and severe. I’d stay up all hours of the night listening to music and filling up my journals with racing thoughts and grandiose ideas that filled my young mind.

Being bipolar has made my life a challenge since I could ever remember. I was diagnosed when I was eighteen years old, after years of not knowing what was particularly wrong with me. After being diagnosed, things in my life just began to make sense.

So what does a bipolar episode exactly feel like? Well, people who have bipolar disorder live in three different realities: stable/normal, depressed, and manic/hypomanic. These three realities make it difficult for those with the disorder to live a consistent and stable life as their moods, energy, and goals change and fluctuate over the years.

The severity and length of a bipolar episode really depends on the individual’s condition and their diagnosis type. I experience rapid cycling and I have bipolar II disorder, which means that I experience four or more episodes a year and I tend to experience a lot more depression than hypomania.

When I experience a bipolar episode, it tends to be different every time. It may sometimes only last for a few hours and other times it may last for weeks. The severity may also be different from episode to episode.

The first sign that I may be entering a hypomanic episode is the lack of sleep. I’ll spend nights awake in my room and still manage wake up at 4AM to 5AM without a problem. Second, I’ll start to feel jittery and restless as my mind begins to buzz with thoughts and ideas that go a million miles a minute. Then within only a few hours to a few days, I’ll manage to be super productive, abnormally energetic, and grandiose. My self-esteem skyrockets and I may engage in risky and impulsive behaviors including shopping sprees, substance abuse, promiscuity, and getting into arguments with others.

Hypomania isn’t all happiness though. I also experience panic attacks, anxiety, guilt, regret, and a series of racing, intrusive thoughts that make my head spin as I fall into a pool of tears. For people with severe manic episodes, psychotic features may begin to arise.

And as the mania overwhelms me, I suddenly feel myself crash into a deep pit of depression that leaves me feeling lifeless and burnt out. With my particular condition, my depressions can last for months at a time, but usually they only last two to three weeks.

Once I’m in depression, I lose all interest in the things that kept me busy when I was hypomanic or stable. I may shift all my goals and aspirations and change who I spend my time with.

Sometimes the depression gets so bad that I begin to wonder if it’s even worth it anymore. I grow tired of my extreme ups and downs and I begin to question suicide and self-harm. Sometimes the depressions and hypomania get so bad that I’ll self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.

56% of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder have also experienced addiction in their lifetime. This is because a person with the disorder may find comfort in substances to slow down their manic behaviors and thoughts or to self-medicate their merciless depressions.

Personally, I have had my fair share of substance use and I have been referred to treatment centers and AA meetings over the years. When I was just fourteen years old, I developed addictive behaviors towards alcohol and since then, I have been working hard on having a healthier relationship with it.

Once the bipolar episode is over, life can be difficult. Your moods may feel stable again, but now it is time to take responsibility for all the tasks and goals you decided to take on while manic. Now it is time to catch up on all the schoolwork and responsibilities you stopped doing when you were depressed.

You have no idea when the next episode might occur, so you must be prepared and recognize your triggers.

I am still young and learning to live with this disorder that has made my life a living hell at times. Today, I am taking my several medications to manage my moods, but that does not make everything completely better. I will still experience the occasional ups and downs just like everyone else.

I’m also under persistent care from a therapist and psychiatrist and my doctor and I couldn’t be more thankful for how helpful they’ve been throughout the years.

Living with bipolar is difficult. It can be relentless and cruel at times, but at the end of the day, it makes us stronger and more in touch with the suffering of others.

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My Mental Illness Isn't A Punchline

So why do I treat it like one?

New year, same old me. I see no reason to start 2018 with a reinvention of myself. Honestly, any quality of mine that was terrible enough to warrant change should already be different by now. If I haven't changed it, it's not a problem, or, it's so much of a problem that I I'm still not really sure what to do about it. That's settled.

There is, however, one tiny thing that I'm committing to changing right now. It's not because of the new year - I'm a woman of my word - but I happened to recognize this truly terrible personal character trait right as 2017 was closing up, so this timing is pure coincidence. This is not a New Year's Resolution. This is me trying to be a better human, because I am constantly trying to improve myself. Not because a 7 changing to an 8 inspired me with the will and passion of one million suns and moons. Or whatever.

With that cleared up, let me jump right in to a brutal criticism of my biggest personality flaw to date: I make a lot of jokes about mental illness.

I was on a crowded subway earlier this month and, out loud, with no regard for the strangers within earshot, proclaimed: "If I don't kill myself today it will literally be a miracle." (Side note, I also say literally far too frequently but there's simply nothing to be done about that.)

So yeah, that's me. I joke about wanting to die at least ten times a day and I joke about wanting to make myself throw up and I joke about being "crazy".And I wish I could blame it on ignorance or indifference but I can't. Because I deal with mental illness on the daily, and I'm aware of the impact words can have on someone suffering from mental illnesses. I know that mental illness is turned into a punchline, or a trend, or a relatable meme way too often. I know that the way mental illness is spoken about needs to change in order for it to be taken seriously, because even though millions of people suffer, mental disorders are still treated as throwaway diagnoses.

I can't even say that it's a coping mechanism, because the fact is, I'm not hiding from anything. I'm perfectly comfortable talking about difficult emotions and personal experiences. I don't shy away from sharing my own battles with mental illness because I recognize the importance that has in normalizing struggling and in advocating for mental health equality.

I joke about mental illness because I don't take it seriously. I don't take it seriously because sometimes it is hard to take myself seriously, to validate my own emotions, and because I have been shown repeatedly that it isn't a big deal.

Mental illness IS a big deal. It's not something to shy away from but it's not something to joke about either. For my own sake, for the sake of my friends, for the sake of anyone else out there who struggles daily to not only deal with their mental illness, but to recognize it as real and valid, I'm done joking. I can't advocate for mental health equality while I'm simultaneously undermining the severity of these issues.

In an effort to be a more decent human, to respect the validity of my own emotions, and to respect the importance of mental health, I'm trying to stop with the jokes. My mental health shouldn't be treated as a punchline, but before others validate it, I need to learn to acknowledge it myself.

Cover Image Credit: Volkan Olmez

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