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Mental Health

Actress Torrey DeVitto on Growing up With Anxiety

Photo: Courtesy of Collin Stark

Anxiety runs deep in Torrey DeVitto’s family. She first began experience symptoms as a young teen and is grateful that she had family members who understood what she was going through. As a result, DeVitto says she wants to help others dealing with the disorder feel the same compassion she has had.

“I always felt very fortunate to have people around me who understood what it felt like to get stuck in a hole, or in a panic attack,” DeVitto shares. “I wanted to bring awareness to mental health and take a stand in making it easy to talk about — less taboo.”

Managing the symptoms

An estimated 40 million adult Americans suffer from some form of anxiety disorder, and symptoms usually begin before age 21. While everyone is anxious from time to time, an anxiety disorder like panic disorder or general anxiety disorder can cause such intense fear or worry in non-threatening situations that a person may be unable to be productive in their daily lives.

When she was younger, DeVitto says anxiety felt like a “black hole would envelop me, and the climb to get out felt impossible.”

And while she still experiences anxiety as an adult, she has learned how to “ride the wave” through therapy, meditation and spiritual practice. While it never completely goes away, she says striving to manage her mental health makes it less debilitating. “Learning to manage anxiety takes a strong work ethic. You have to work on it the same way you would work on a body at the gym.”

Advocating for others

In addition to dealing with her own condition, DeVitto is committed to helping others through work with Philosophy’s Hope & Grace Initiative and the National Alliance on Mental Illness. In sharing her story, she hopes it will enable others with similar struggles “feel braver to speak openly about mental health issues.” She wants to reach those who don’t struggle with diagnoses like depression so they may eventually be stigma-free. “Spreading awareness of being stigma-free is so important. Sometimes it just takes explaining and opening someone’s eyes to elicit more compassion.”

The media and mental health

From over-representing disorders like schizophrenia to portraying people with mental illness as childish or violent, mainstream media often misrepresents mental illness. It’s an issue that concerns DeVitto in part because, “I do not think people are even aware themselves how manipulated they are by what they see in the media.” In her view, “[It is] the media’s responsibility to hold that space of bringing awareness to these issues.”

Insights and encouragement

It can be hard to know how to help a friend or loved one struggling with a mental health problem, but DeVitto says it’s actually very simple. “Even if you do not know what to do for someone who is suffering or what to say, just sit with them and hold the space of compassion.”

For those who, like her, live their daily lives with a mental health condition, she wants them to know they aren’t alone. “I feel you. I so feel you. No matter how dark it gets, please try and find the courage to reach out to someone.”

Jill Coody Smits, [email protected]

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