Telling stories to break the stigma: my 22-year-old nephew died by suicide after suffering silently from depression

June 13, 2018
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By Nikki Webber Allen / OffTheRecord, AFROPUNK contributor


On July 4, 2013, a day of celebration across the country, I got the worst news of my life: my 22-year-old nephew Paul had ended his life after years of struggling with depression and anxiety. Paul was a bright light in the lives of those who knew and loved him. He was charismatic. And thoughtful. And funny. He was so smart that he was offered academic scholarships to three prestigious universities before attending Morehouse College on a full ride. His future held such promise. Sadly, in college the depression and anxiety overcame him. Despite our close relationship, he’d never told me about his illness. He didn’t want me, nor anyone else, to think he was weak. I was gutted by the news that my nephew was gone. I still am. And I’m heartbroken and guilt-ridden by the fact that I never told him about my own secret struggle with depression and anxiety. Damn stigma.

The recent suicide deaths of high profile celebrities like Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain are bringing much-needed attention to mental illness, a public health crisis in the U.S., and the devastating consequences of mental health stigma. Check out these staggering statistics:

  • Millennials suffer from anxiety at a much higher rate than previous generations.
  • In 2017, nearly 61% of college students said they “felt overwhelming anxiety” and 40% felt so depressed that it was difficult to function.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death on college campuses. One in twelve college students makes a suicide plan.
  • Suicide rates in the U.S. have risen nearly 30% since 1999. More Americans die from suicides than car accidents or opioids.
  • Despite effective treatment options, 40% of people with serious mental disorders don’t seek help.
  • Racism and socio-economic disparities put Black and Latinx Americans at a higher risk factor for developing a mental disorder yet they use mental health services at about half the rate of Whites Americans and Asians Americans at about one-third the rate.

Given how many people are struggling, I just can’t accept the shame around mental health anymore. For my nephew Paul, and all of the other beautiful souls we’ve lost to this wretched illness, I’ve launched a nonprofit called I LIVE FOR… to tackle the stigma head on by talking about it. Openly.

We share stories that inspire, empower and connect young people who live with – or love a person living with – mental illness. Through peer workshops, a social media campaign and our documentary film, we create safe spaces for honest conversations about mental health. Our primary focus is on teens and young adults in communities of color where the cultural stigma keeps far too many suffering in silence.

This is where YOU come in. Your donation of ANY AMOUNT, will help us to amplify our message of help and hope. Funds will go towards:

  • Production and post-production costs for our documentary film
  • Original photography and video content for our social media campaign
  • Mental wellness workshops

Even if money is tight right now, here are 4 ways you can still support our important movement:

  • Share our video and crowdfunding campaign on your preferred social media sites
  • Follow us on FB, IG, Twitter @ilivefororg
  • Join our community at
  • Share our TED Talk about depression

There’s no sugar-coating it, the situation is dire but there’s always hope. We can AND WILL end mental health stigma so that people suffering silently will feel free to ask for the help they need.

Thank you for your support. Together, we’ll save lives!

With love,

Nikki Webber Allen
Check out our video for more about I LIVE FOR…
To reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

*This post is in partnership with