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April 20th, 2009
The Film
Stacy's Story
Stacy HollingsworthStacy Hollingsworth

In many ways, Stacy Hollingsworth was an exceptional teenager – an energetic young woman with talent in academics, sports, music and acting. Always smiling, she appeared – on the outside – to have it all.

But on the inside, Stacy was suffering in ways that no one – not her parents, friends or teachers – ever knew.

“It was the kind of pain where I literally wanted to curl up into a ball and fade away, or scream at the top of my lungs,” she recalls. “It felt like being a prisoner of war – your own war.”

For six years – despite her success in academics, sports and acting – Stacy silently battled depression. At its worst, the illness paralyzed her with feelings of hopelessness, and caused her to spend hours crying in her bedroom.

It began around the age of 14, when Stacy (now 25) remembers losing interest in the activities she once loved, and having trouble getting out of bed in the morning.

“It was like being tortured by your own brain,” she says.

The summer before her freshman year of high school, Stacy says she started to contemplate taking her own life.

“It wasn’t ‘I want to die.’ It was, ‘I can’t take this anymore,’ ” she says. “It was so excruciating to deal with the symptoms of the depression and the pain, there was this feeling that I can’t do this anymore – I don’t know how long I can last.”

When asked why she didn’t share her suffering with anyone, Stacy says it was mostly the stigma.
“I’d seen the way people with mental health issues were treated, and I didn’t want that to be me,” she says, adding that she was also afraid her illness might affect her acceptance to college, or her plans to go to medical school.

And why not share her struggle with her parents? “I didn’t want to burden them,” says Stacy, an only child.
Her mother, Sharon Hollingsworth, says she never noticed any warning signs of Stacy’s illness beneath her smiles and successes – an experience she uses to caution other parents of teens.

“I think parents think they know everything about their children, and I think in a lot of cases they do,” she says. “But I think there’s also a disconnect between children and parents…dealing with something like depression. I think that there are still things kids are hiding in almost every case.”

Even with her depression, Stacy managed to finish high school in the top of her class, and was accepted to Rutgers University in her home state of New Jersey. But once she got to college, Stacy’s depression, and suicidal impulses, worsened.

One night, after counting out enough prescription medication to commit suicide, she sought help at the campus psychiatric hospital.

“I needed to do something to save my life,” she says. “I had to do something, or I was going to die.”
That hospital stay marked a turning point for Stacy. With the support of her parents, she temporarily withdrew from Rutgers, sought help from a therapist, and eventually found a medication to effectively manage her depression. Stacy also found comfort, and encouragement, in an online community of people suffering with mental illness.

Last spring, Stacy graduated from Rutgers and landed a job with the National Alliance of Mental Illness in New Jersey, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of people who have been affected by mental health issues through advocacy, resources and education. She also founded NAMI-Rutgers, which works solely on campus.

“I think after having gone through my own life-changing experience with mental illness, I feel like I really have a second chance at life,” says Stacy. “It’s amazing to be alive and I want to take however much time I have left to put it to good use.”

For Stacy’s work, Mental Health America presented her with one of six outstanding young advocate awards in 2007 for her efforts to raise awareness of mental health issues among America’s youth, and addressing the issue of stigma.

When asked if she has any words for teens experiencing depression or thoughts of suicide, she says: “First, realize you are not alone – that is so important…Also, come to terms with it and accept yourself. Then, you have to say ‘who do I feel comfortable going to?’ And if there’s not…find someone who can play a role in your recovery.”

Stacy adds: “For the longest time, I never thought I’d be one of the ones who would get better. When I finally did, it surprised me, and it gave me hope…hope is possible.”

For more on Stacy’s story, see her video for MTV’s Half of Us campaign online.

For more on the National Alliance on Mental Illness, log onto NAMI’s Web site.

  • Shelley

    Thank you Stacy for being an inspiration to us all. And thank you PBS for helping to spread hope.

  • Carie

    I read your story and I think alot of people go through the same pressures as you did. You were brave enough to talk about it and your story will help other people. I think its amazing that despite all of your depression you were able to accomplish so much.

  • Rebekah

    Thank you for sharing your experiences, Stacy. I am actually going through many of the same things that you are now. I am a senior in college but recently withdrew temporarily due to severe depression. Your story gives me hope, which is MUCH needed. It’s definitely a rough journey, and for me, this has all just begun. But anyway, this story is much appreciated.

  • Rebekah

    P.S. I just want to clarify (from my post above) that I am not going through the same things as Stacy…I am having a SIMILAR experience because of course, NO ONE can feel what some one else feels or experience the exact same thing. Ever. period. I just wanted to put that out there. Thanks.

  • Georgi

    God Bless you for coming through your depression.
    Depression is such a mystery and makes us stronger and more hopeful.
    Continue to speak up and help combat the stigma that goes along with mental illness.

  • D J Register

    The degree that the National Alliance on Mental Illness (a national lobby and special interest group promoting mental illness screening–that some refer to as a cult) has infiltrated the Substance Abuse, Mental Health Services Administration of DHHS (SAMHSA WAS THE FUNDING SOURCE FOR THIS DOCUMENTARY) is unknown. For instance, there was a recent FOIA request that a Durham, NC group did, #08-120, that was meant to explore this infiltration. SAMHSA simply refused to comply. This girl sadly it appears has become another product placement in a film.

  • ann walsh

    wish the STEPS program was a nationwide class for all junior and highschool students and yes College Students also.

  • Rick

    I know all about it, I’m experiencing it now.

  • Mrs Rifkin

    Stacy – I’m still proud of what you after all these years.

  • Roelf Bolt (Utrecht, The Netherlands)

    Stacy – suffering from depression myself since I was 14 (that makes it it’s 25th ‘birthday’ this year…), I’m impressed by the eloquence with which you are able to describe the feellings and thoughts that can torture a sufferer. And that’s important, because it can help people who simply don’t understand what is going on with them, realise what the cause is – and get help in time. Also, I agree with a point that’s made in the documentary (but not strong enough, I think): it is possible to lead a meaningful and productive live when suffering from depression. Two university degrees, a long-time girlfriend, great friends (and a book that’s about to be published!) – what more could I as for in this stage of my life? (Except a miracle cure, maybe – that would be nice.)

  • Catherine Taylor

    Thank you Stacy. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I Withdrew from graduate school in ‘02 for severe depression and haven’t been able to work or finish school. My whole life has been truned upside down. You vividly described the pain and torture caused by depression. I have great plans and intentions, but I can’t sustain the energy to function on a consistent basis. I want to be of service to others in some capacity. I wish I had the opportunity to learn more about peer mentoring for others with depression. This is a poem I wrote.
    “This Life”
    This life consists of heat-ache and pain.
    Like the apostle Paul-”For me to live is Christ- but to die is great gain.”
    We can only hold on and strengthen our faith.
    For it takes great endurance to run this race.
    My lungs are full of air inhaled.
    My legs are trembling from the pace I rail.
    Just when my body feels it can take no more,
    Grace comes along and evens the score.
    For this race can’t be run by sheer wil alone.
    Help must come from God’s great throne.
    So as I attempt to hold to the end,
    Please love God and be my best friend.
    True friends are few in mere mortal man
    You promised to be our friend if we do as you command.
    Hold my hand lord as I run this great race.
    But when it’s all over, reserve me a place.
    Just rest my weary head in the palm of your loving hand.
    And allow me to enjoy the peace in your land.
    They say it’s a place where we’ll never grow old.
    A beautiful city, a home of the soul.
    This world has only sorrows and heart-ache to gain.
    A better dwellilng place we long to obtain.

  • Myia Clark

    Thank you Stacy for putting your story out there. I also had thoughts of suicide, sometimes I still do. But after hearing your story, and hearing how you got through it, I feel like there gone. My parents couldn’t believe my suicidal thoughts when they found out (I wasn’t planing on telling them) I’m only in middle school. But I’ve been having these feelings for a LONG time. when my parents found out they got me help as soon as possible from this mental hospital. I was SCARED I kept saying that I wanted to go home, Finally they sent me home. But it was to soon. After they sent me “home” I started having suicidal thoughts again, still do, I haven’t told any but you. And I guess it’s just nice to talk to someone who went through the same thing.

  • April

    I somehow happened upon this story and I can’t thank you enough for sharing. By the grace of God, I, too, am a success story. I had struggled with depression and mental health issues for years, clear back into my childhood, but I never received the right kind of help (I am now an adult in my 30s). Then, a few years ago, all that came crashing down on me. In January of 2009, I lost my cousin to cancer and that was a turning point for me. My Mom says it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. After my cousin’s death, I had a breakdown and I knew when I started thinking suicidal thoughts, I knew I had better get help quickly or I would be joining my cousin in Heaven before long. I ended up calling a mental health facility not far from my home and I was set up for an appointment to see if I would qualify for services; I had no insurance and no money to get help. The Lord gave me favor with them and I began receiving help from the state for free. I began seeing a wonderful counselor and eventually, they got me on the roster to see the actual psychiatrist to be evaluated for medication. The first set of meds they tried me on made me really sick and they decided to try me on something else.

    Still feeling like I needed a bit more help, I voluntarily submitted myself for in-patient hospitalization. I was in there for just under a week, mainly to get stabilized on my medication. While there, they kept a close eye on me to see how I responded to my new medication. I was also put on a separate medicine for sleep. I also went to group therapy and saw the doctor everyday while there (a different doctor than MY doctor treated me in the hospital). That’s been almost 2 1/2 years ago and i am still getting better. I am still on the same dosage of meds as I was when I was released from the hospital and my doctor is thrilled with my progress and so am I. The Lord really blessed me with people who really cared about helping me. My caseworker through the state has been awesome. I saw one counselor for quite a while and another kind of counselor who helped me with coping skills and both were awesome. My doctor is still giving me good care. I go for a check-up with her every 3 months or so and she isn;t even interested in budging on my meds right now because she has said since I am doing so well on the my current dosage, she sees no good reason to change it in any way. :)

    One thing I realized through all this is just how ignorant some people are about mental health and depression and I really do mean that in the nicest way. It’s true; some people really have no idea that’s depression is a real disease and mental health issues are real problems that need to be treated. You can’t just “get over it” or “snap out of it”. It isn’t that simple. It is what it is and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Admitting that you need help is not weakness; it’s actually a sign of strength to admit you need help. It was hard for me to admit I needed this kind of help, but by the grace of God, it was one of the smartest and best things I ever did. As of today, I am still on my medication and it very well could be that I’ll be on it for the rest of my life and then again, I may not. I don’t know. But I do know that for me, the grace of God gave me the strength to do what I could not do for myself.

    So, please, if you are having problems with depression, please seek help. If you don’t find the right people to help you right off the bat, keep going and keep on keeping on until you find the right ones to help you. The point is “Don’t ever give up”. :)

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