By Noah Kinsey

For 11 years, I suffered from clinical depression.

And nobody knew.

Not my friends, my family, my ex-wife, or any medical professional. Not anybody. I didn’t tell a soul until years after I had clawed my way out.

I didn’t want anyone to know. I was embarrassed and felt like if anyone knew they would treat me differently, feel sorry for me, or I would be a burden to those who would try to help. So I hid in plain sight; which is easy to do when you’re a professional storyteller.

Whether I was acting, doing improv, making friends laugh, or writing stories and scripts where I could hide behind the perspective of others, I became the master of distracting everyone from seeing just how worthless I felt on the inside. Nobody had any idea how low I was or how dark my thoughts got.

And that’s what’s so terrifying about depression.

Most of the time, you would never guess that the person was suffering from it. People who are suffering won’t post about being depressed on social media, lash out at others to make themselves feel better, have noticeable freak outs, or exhibit any signs at all because depression, by nature, is a condition that makes people mostly want to hide away from the world.

It also doesn’t help that it’s extremely misunderstood in our society.

When I came out to everyone that I had suffered from depression, even my mom asked what I thought caused it and I didn’t have an answer for her. Sure, there is situational depression that affects people from time to time. But clinical depression doesn’t need a reason or event to cause it. I didn’t have a rough childhood (my parents were and are wonderfully supportive people) or traumatic life event (other than the time I found out that Bruce Willis was dead the whole time). I just started descending into depression in college and it kept getting worse.

And it affected my actions and decisions. I had so much self-doubt that I began playing it safe professionally instead of taking risks that could’ve proved more rewarding. I allowed myself to be used, literally abused, and discarded by girlfriends (because if I didn’t value myself, why should I expect them to?). I would throw aside anything I was working on in a moment’s notice to help a friend because I genuinely felt my only worth was in what I could do for others and making THEM happy. I’m not proud of what I did or allowed others to do to me during that time, but I felt worthless and didn’t want anyone to know and judge me. Because I was sure that would happen.

In general, most people don’t really know how to handle or view mental health. A lot of insurance plans for companies don’t cover mental care, and there’s a stigma around those who publicly admit they have problems and need help. I’ve seen and heard it. The ones who are brave enough to speak out are seen as weird, with family and friends tip-toing around them or acting hesitant. As is they’re a bomb about to go off at any minute. They treat them as if they should be on suicide watch, when the reality is the most suicidal of us won’t show the symptoms until it’s tragically too late.

We need to start proactively talking about depression and mental health. We need to stop treating it as this boogey man and get in front of it. Learn what it is. Express your feelings, fears, emotions, and questions about the things you don’t understand. Be supportive. Learn to listen instead of merely waiting for your turn to talk. Shine a light in the corners where depression used to go to hide. Because someone you love will be affected by this (if they aren’t already) and I promise you that if we treat mental health the same way we do other common health issues, it will make it infinitely easier for those who suffer to feel safe enough to talk about it.

With mental health funding constantly on the chopping block in Washington, medical professionals not being able to have an accurate percentage of people affected due to people not coming forward, and losing our heroic veterans to suicide at an alarming daily rate, it is up to us to pave the way for real change. We can’t sit and wait for it to just get better. Lives literally depend on it.

I was somehow able to pull myself out of clinical depression without any help or medicine. But not everyone is that lucky. Some desperately need help. Some don’t make it out the other side.

Some don’t make it out alive.

But we CAN change that. I know we can.

So that’s why #iSTANDfor mental health awareness.

And, unlike how I felt during those 11 years of my life, on this I know I don’t stand alone.

Based in Los Angeles, Noah Kinsey is a professional actor/writer/producer and host of the film podcast Upon Further Review. You can follow him on Twitter at @thenoahkinsey.