In One Video, This SNL Comedian Teaches Us 3 Important Lessons About Depression

Source: AP
Source: AP

Saturday Night Live cast member Jay Pharoah has struggled with depression since he was a small child. The 27-year-old actor and comedian admitted as much during a HuffPost Live segment Wednesday, when he responded to a question from host Marc Lamont Hill about the emotional mechanisms that fuel his comedy.

"I was massively overweight from, like, age 6 to 17," Pharoah said. "I got messed with a lot by everybody. Like, I couldn't get away from it."

He went on to describe how his physical appearance, and the bullying that came with it, affected his self-esteem for years, and how he felt that his mother was his only advocate through much of that time — even alluding to an incident where she stopped him from committing an act of self-harm at age 12.

Source: Andy Kropa/AP

Things seem to be going better now: "I feel like I appreciate and love myself a lot more than I used to," he said. "At one point, I would look in the mirror and just hated what I saw."

But in this brief, four-minute video clip, Pharoah manages to outline three important but widely under-addressed facts about depression that everyone needs to know.

1. Childhood depression isn't just for white kids.

Depression, suicide and related mental health issues among children have long been framed as problems that overwhelmingly affect white kids. This is partly based on statistics: White children, and white people in general, tend to be more likely to die by suicide than blacks, for example.

But that pattern is rapidly shifting. According to a study published in May in JAMA Pediatrics, the suicide rate for black children ages 5 to 11 doubled between 1993 and 2012, the New York Times reports.

"It was the first time a national study found a higher suicide rate for blacks than for whites of any age group," the New York Times writes, citing how black youth suicides rose from 1.36 to 2.54 per 1 million children over that period.

The specific reasons for this remain unclear. But as Pharoah's story illustrates, it's a very real phenomenon, and speaks to a set of experiences that receive far too little attention.

2. Body image issues affect boys too.

The ways that modern beauty standards around body image and physique contribute to low self-esteem among girls are well-documented. Less widely addressed is how they affect boys. 

A 2014 study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that not only are many boys very self-conscious about their bodies — 9.2% report "high concerns" with muscularity (but no signs of bulimia), and 6.3% report similar concerns about thinness and muscularity — but these anxieties also correspond with a far greater likelihood of abusing drugs and binge drinking frequently, compared to their peers.

Pharoah's story adds yet another dimension to this discussion. "I'd be at, say, Golden Corral," he said, "and my father would stare at me. [And] I would, like, take my food and, like, turn it. And it was like, why are you judging me so hard? It would be like a judging thing.

"Now, if I feel like I'm going back there, I will... I won't eat. Like, I'll starve myself," he said.

The JAMA study found that a fraught relationship with food is not uncommon among boys: "[Binge] eating or purging or overeating without a loss of control were reported by 31%" of the more than 5,500 respondents.

3. It's not always easy to go see the doctor.

Pharoah expresses a sentiment here that's not uncommon among people who suffer from depression — and black people in particular. A survey reported by CNN in 2011 found that 43% of people "would keep their depression to themselves" during visits to the doctor, in part because "they feel their emotional difficulties are off-topic." 

The National Institute of Mental Health adds, "Although black Americans are less likely than whites to have a major depressive disorder, when they do, it tends to be more chronic and severe. They are also much less likely to undergo treatment."

Therapists say this pattern is changing, according to the Washington Post. But health care access disparities persist nonetheless, and treatment for black Americans remains a cause for concern.

As with anyone who struggles with depression or suicidal thoughts, Pharoah's story holds valuable lessons for both those who are suffering and those who hope to understand more.

Watch the full video clip below:

h/t HuffPost Live

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Zak Cheney Rice

Zak is a Senior Staff Writer at Mic.

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