The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that globally, more than 300 million people are affected by depression. Though treatments are widely available, the stigma associated with mental health issues acts as the reason that nearly two-thirds of individuals with a known mental disorder will avoid seeking help from a health professional. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide and with that, a staggering 800,000 people die committing suicide each year. As a result, suicide has become the second leading cause of death in 15-29 year olds worldwide.
In the last few years, this devastating reality has garnered a substantial amount of interest by the general public, organizations, and other various communities across the globe. Now, more than ever, individuals are joining the movement to eliminate the stigma associated with mental health and embrace the struggles and difficulties that make us human. Often at the forefront of this movement, are public figures who speak out to encourage and inspire their followers to get help where help is needed. Some of the most prominent advocates in the mental health community are social media influencers, like Ryan Hughes, who use their presence on social media to reach audiences from all different walks of life at the mere touch of their fingertips. For Hughes, revealing a more authentic persona on YouTube allows him to establish a deeper connection with his followers and ultimately, allows him to remind them that sometimes, it is okay not to be okay.
When Hughes, who is better known as “Bucks” by his fans and subscribers, began his YouTube channel, he didn't necessarily do so with the end-goal of making money or advocating for mental health. He was, however, energized by the idea that YouTube would allow him to make a living out of doing something that he was in total control of and deeply passionate about. Any money he makes or social advocacy he is able to garner as a result of his channel is simply an added benefit to getting to do what he loves for a living.
Having developed into avid “gamer” throughout his adolescent years, Hughes began to notice the power and presence that YouTube had in the online gaming community. As he watched it unfold before his eyes, he grew determined to become a part of that world. He endeavored to create a space for all things gaming and humor, from creating playing guides to entertaining his audiences by allowing them to watch him play. Thus, in 2012, he created his YouTube channel with the goal of entertaining like-minded individuals within the gaming community. In addition, he wanted to become a personality that his followers would enjoy watching and to create an atmosphere in which they could thrive. Along the way, he gathered a humble following and eventually, when the demand of balancing his channel with his full-time job at a digital marketing agency became too strenuous, he decided to focus his efforts solely on his passion for becoming a professional social media influencer. Today, with over 400,000 YouTube subscribers, it is safe to say he made a wise decision.
“I’ve always taken extreme passion towards creating content and giving people laughter and entertainment. I would never have started YouTube with the mindset of doing it for money. There is something so much more satisfying about creating my own short films, taking control of what they are, what I do in them, and how I edit them. I am addicted to the platform, to receiving engagement, and to making others smile in return. As an influencer, I create content to entertain, to draw out raw emotions, and to develop a genuine connection with my audience. I can’t imagine doing anything else for a career,” tells Hughes.
As a result of his rise in popularity, Hughes began to receive messages from his subscribers that were unrelated to the material embedded in his videos, but rather about the impact his content and his presence have had on their lives. The messages informed him that amidst their own emotional and personal life struggles, Hughes’ content acts as a positive force in the lives of his followers and in addition to helping them overcome their problems, his channel makes them feel as though they belong to something truly meaningful. The more messages that he received, the more inspired he became to connect with those individuals on a larger scale and to anyone else who may not have had the courage to reach out. His influence became even more apparent when a close friend, Phelan McCormack, confided in him about his own struggles with depression. Hughes was inspired to create something for McCormack, and for the thousands of other individuals tuning into his channel just like him.
As a result, in January of 2017, Hughes released a video titled, Depression, in which he committed to speaking about his own personal experiences with depression and anxiety in order to build a level of trust with his followers that would let them know that they are not alone in their struggles. After viewing the video, McCormack realized just how compassionate Hughes really is and he found himself more motivated than ever before to find meaning in his own life. He recognized that he could not overcome the darker thoughts he had without the love and support of friends like Hughes, and credits Hughes as being one of the main reasons that he is where he is today.
“Ryan is dependable, determined, and respectful. His self-driven success has been created solely though his hard work and talent. Not only is he an amazing friend, but he is a great role model. He gave nothing but his full attention to me and to my problems which, in turn, has helped me get to where I am today in my health and my happiness,” says McCormack.
Like McCormack, depression and anxiety played a very prominent role in Hughes’ childhood and adolescent life. When he attended college, however, he recalls his mental health as being at an all-time low. At his worst, Hughes was unable to leave home or establish any form of social interaction with others. After finding a safe space through his YouTube channel, where he could express himself and pursue his dreams, Hughes managed to overcome his battle with depression and felt that his subscribers would find comfort in their shared experiences. In the video, he urges his subscribers to focus on two main things: to understand you’re not alone, and not to be afraid of speaking up. He reminds them that there is no shame in seeking help and that by taking these steps, he managed to overcome his battles with his mental health. Today, his words have been viewed over 34,000 times and that number is only sure to rise.
“Working on this was emotional, as it brought back a lot of personal memories that I talked about in the video. I ultimately wanted to reach out to people struggling, to those who didn’t want to message or bother me about their situations. To do this, I had to explain my own story so I can allow people to empathize with me. I also wanted to create a community for my audience, whereby they can help each other, talk to each other and make new friends. The video is a tool that people can use for help. I find this to be important because so many of us are affected by mental health, yet so little ever decide to speak up or do something about it. When influencers act as role models to their audiences, it’s more likely that our followers will listen to us. Especially when we can show that we have been through what they are going through. It gives them someone they can look up to and can trust, and who will listen and learn,” notes Hughes.
For Hughes, being able to bring videos like Depression before his audiences solidifies the fact that his career choice is unique, but extremely humbling. Knowing that he created a channel where his subscribers can retreat in order to identify their difficult emotions and turn them into something positive reminds him that there is nothing in this world that he would rather be doing.
“It’s the most motivating and best feeling in the world. It is both a blessing and an eye opener that what social media influencers do has such an extreme effect on people. Being a source of entertainment, it is amazing to see my work having such a positive impact on people in these situations,” he concludes.
Depression can be viewed here.