Kelsey Darragh is a former video producer and development partner at BuzzFeed. She currently is a cast member on the E! show “Dating: No Filter.”
Her videos for BuzzFeed have received over 160 million views, averaging over 14 million views per video.
Darragh has dealt with mental illness and panic attacks for much of her life, leading her to write an upcoming book, “Don’t F*cking Panic: The Sh*t They Don’t Tell You in Therapy About Anxiety Disorders, Panic Attacks & Depression.”
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Kelsey Darragh is a comedian, video producer, podcaster, and now: author. She is best known for her numerous videos at BuzzFeed where she rose to the role of development partner.
While she built up a following and fanbase for her playfulness and on-camera exuberance, Darragh was quietly dealing with major depressive disorder, panic attacks, and chronic pain. After opening up about her struggles, however, she quickly found support from her fans and transitioned much of her work to mental health advocacy.
Darragh sat down with Insider to discuss her own mental health, her time at BuzzFeed, how YouTube can be better for the LGBT community, and her upcoming book, “Don’t F*cking Panic: The Sh*t They Don’t Tell You in Therapy About Anxiety Disorders, Panic Attacks & Depression.”
What was your impetus to write your new book about mental health?
Darragh: I was so tired of suffering. I’m not someone who could really understand the sciencey language of the way hormones and chemicals and Freud worked. I just wanted something that was straightforward, relatable, millennial, young that talks about the current problems, because what I realized is any material I picked up about like the DSM-V or anxiety disorders was so outdated and scientific and unreadable — honestly, it wasn’t entertaining. And I figured if I’m going to talk about this stuff, which I do extensively, I wanted it to be in a way where young cool people could understand it and want to read more about it.
Has it been difficult to shift much of your time into mental health advocacy?
It was an interesting transition to make my mental health part of my work. I like to call myself kind of an accidental advocate. I didn’t plan on being like a mental health activist, but when I put my life on the internet at BuzzFeed, I felt like I was hiding this whole part of me. I was so sick of the Instagram aesthetic and facade that so many young people put on that I was like, “F— it. Here’s who I am — does anyone else feel this way?”And it turns out millions of people do!
How has your openness with your sexuality and becoming a queer advocate affected your mental health?
Oh man, I think it is so tied. When young people aren’t out or are coming to terms with their identity it can take a huge toll on your mental health. And that’s like an added layer to adolescence that not everyone has to go through, and to not have support during that time is the darkest and sometimes hardest thing someone will go through.
I feel like there needs to be even more emphasis on the LGBT+ mental health support systems. I mean, what do we have, a f—ing hotline number and maybe one or two like Discord chat rooms, right? It’s like, everyone’s turning to the internet now. And for me, it’s about highlighting those spaces and highlighting that support system and finding more ways to help queer youth. Because for me, that was probably like the hardest struggle now that I am so goddamn out loud and proud. It’s a lot easier for me to say, “I’m confused and I feel depressed and I don’t know how to deal with this.” But when I was an adolescent, I had no f—ing clue how to deal with that swirl of brain chaos that comes with coming to terms with your identity.
What role does “the internet never forgets” play into your mental health as a content creator?
As it comes to mental health, I still feel like there are the stigmas that are attached to labels of what someone is. If you come forward with saying that you are bipolar, or you live with bipolar, or you live with psychosis, then that’s public information. Say someone is researching you and the first thing that pops up is things about your mental health. We’re very quick to label people as unstable, or unhireable, or someone you don’t want to be around. And that’s what I’m calling out, that’s what I think is bulls—.
What I think is wrong with our society is that we see people who deal with mental health struggles and consider them unmanageable, untamed, or unhinged and it’s just simply not true because I guarantee someone in your circle, in your quarantine pod, your best friend, or your group chat deals with something like this and is hiding. What I really want to change the conversation around is how you can be successful and still deal with trauma, psychosis, anxiety, panic, depression — all of these things and still be a full-fledged, successful human in society.
Have you experienced any backlash from being open about your mental health?
The only negative comments that I ever saw about coming out about my anxiety, panic, and depression was people who said, “There’s no way she can be that outgoing and that successful and actually struggle. I don’t believe her or that can’t be true.” I wanted to grab the screen and be like, “You haven’t been there! You haven’t seen the truth!” And that made me just want to put out more and share more about my struggles because we have this image of what a depressed person looks like, and it’s simply outdated and honestly offensive.
As a YouTube video creator since 2012, how has the space shifted and evolved over time?
I think YouTube still has a lot of learning to do, obviously. We’re seeing a lot of change with the way that we’re monetizing content around sexual health and wellness or LGBT+ matters. I know that there’s a lot of unrest with creators and asking for what they need and how long things take to fix, but I think that YouTube for me and mental health has done more help than harm. It’s been a place that I can go and Google “how to stop a panic attack” and videos will come up. So for me, I’m happy in the direction that it’s going, but of course, when it comes to being a creator, I think they have a lot of work.
Have you personally experienced any of the LGBT or mental health content moderation that’s become an ongoing issue at Youtube?
Absolutely. There was a point where I was uploading three of my podcasts episode at once and out of the three, one episode titled “THE BIG BISEXUAL EPISODE” got demonetized before I even scheduled it. The other two videos did not, and I posted it to Twitter and I tagged YouTube and a bunch of other creators responded and YouTube within 24 hours said they made a mistake and it was part of their algorithm, it was a computer that did it, and they fixed it.
But the fact that we can’t even talk about bisexuality really played into bi-erasure in a way that I don’t think YouTube was aware of. And that’s what I mean when I say they have still a lot of work to do. That’s a computer that’s saying, “Hey, this should be flagged.” And I’m like, “People need this. Are you kidding?” Also, I cuss a lot in my videos, so pretty much everything gets demonetized. I don’t make any money off of YouTube.
What’s your dream goal for your mental health advocacy work?
I think it’s making people feel safe to talk about it. You know, I suffered for so long because I was always terrified that I was crazy, that I was the only person that had these thoughts, that I was f—ed up in the head, that I was going to get locked up in a loony bin, and that no one would ever understand me… There really is light at the end of the tunnel and healing is not linear. You know, you don’t come out of the tunnel and then you’re fine, fixed, and you’re cured. It’s not about that. It’s about management. So for me, it’s about letting people know my story so that they stay around.
Darragh’s book, “Don’t F*cking Panic: The Sh*t They Don’t Tell You in Therapy About Anxiety Disorders, Panic Attacks & Depression,” is available for preorder and will be released in mid-October.
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