Of all the incredible stories that came out of San Diego Comic Con this year, one of the most powerful happened during the Supernatural panel. As the stars of the show took to the stage, they were met with a sea of small lights - tiny electronic candles held to show support and love for Jared Padalecki in his struggle with depression.
The star opened up about his experiences with mental illness earlier this year and after declaring to Variety that "there's no shame" in being depressed, launched a T-shirt campaign with co-star Jensen Ackles to raise money for non-profit To Write Love On Her Arms.
Padalecki is not the only celebrity speaking out about mental health. Many other stars are opening up about their own battles, including Lena Dunham, David Beckham, Jim Carrey, John Ham and Leonardo DiCaprio. There is no doubt that hearing these stories is a huge help to people going through their own struggles, and that feeling like you aren't alone is vital when coping with mental illness.
Another major name in nerd-dom, Wil Wheaton, also recently opened up about his own experiences with depression and generalized anxiety disorder in a video for Project UROK (You Are OK), a new organization that allows everyone to share their experiences and stories in a safe space.
I caught up with founder Jenny Jaffe at Comic Con earlier this month, to talk about where the project came from, where it's going, and where fandoms fit into mental health awareness. Here's what she had to say about Project UROK.
On UROK And Where The Idea Came From
"I wrote an article about going to exposure therapy for OCD, and I was absolutely terrified, because this wasn't something that I'd ever talked publicly about. I was bracing myself for all these internet comments, but the response was so positive and so supportive, and the most amazing response was from people who I'd known for years saying "I had no idea, me too"."
"So I started thinking about whats out there right now and I was amazed that nothing had been formally assembled out of what was already out there and done in a way where we could monitor the comment sections. We wanted to create a place online, where it's safe to talk about what you are going through. Where you can feel supported and either talk about it, or just watch someone else talk about it."
"When you struggle with something like mental illness or when you've had a traumatic experience or when you've been through something and survived you become very empathetic. I think that everyone on our site is a very empathetic person because they know what it's like, they've been there too."
On Wil Wheaton and Celebrities Raising Awareness
"Getting Wil Wheaton was the moment when things jumped to the next tier. A year ago if someone had told me "Wil Wheaton's going to do your thing" I would have been like.. the real Wil Wheaton? As in, WIL WHEATON?! That's crazy!"
"For other people we would like to get involved with... I think that the interesting thing is that no matter who you reach out to, they pretty much will have some sort of story because it's either going to be them or somebody they know. There are so many people talking about it now. Emma Stone just talked about having anxiety and I love Emma Stone."
On Inside Out...
"I've seen it twice now. I think my favorite thing about the movie is that when Riley is depressed, she loses her feelings of joy and sadness simultaneously, and then when she hits her lowest point, her panel that controls all emotions just freezes over. [Depression is] the absence of emotion, people think it's just pure sadness, it's really just numb. I think that the other thing they did brilliantly is that sadness creates empathy, that sadness's response to grief is just to sit and say "I'm very sorry that must be very difficult"."
"Joy, in the movie, spends so much time trying to make everything happy again, sometimes the thing to do is just sit with your emotions and just feel what you need to feel."
On Fandoms And Mental Health
"One thing that came full circle for me is that one particular summer when I'd first moved to New York and I didn't know anybody, I got really into Star Trek, and it made me feel so much more comfortable. I felt like I had friends in these characters. I threw myself into Dr Who and Star Trek, I definitely think it's great, tapping into the nerdy community because a) I relate to it and b) I think that escapism is one of my favorite ways to deal with [mental illness]."
On Where Project UROK Is Headed
"One of my biggest dreams right now for the site is that I would like international chapters. Mara Wilson did a video and her video had more views in South America than it ever did in the US, and we would love to start trying to set up versions of the site in other languages."
"We want to create a platform where no matter your background or race or income level or sexuality or whatever, you feel that your story is being represented, that you have a voice."
"Anybody doing any kind of non profit or charity work eventually wants to be pointless. I would hope in ten years, people are going to be asking, why did you have to have a special thing to talk about your feelings? Everybody talks about their feelings all the time. That would be wonderful. I'm very hopeful for the future."
Share your own stories, or hear others, at www.projecturok.org