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  • Writer's pictureKina Velasco

Black, Gay, and a Mental Health Advocate: Jarred Keller Uses His Social Media to

Drop Knowledge on Improving Mental Health

  • As a teenager, Jarred Denzel Keller knew he struggled with mental illness–but never truly opened up about it since the term “mental health” was highly stigmatized, or even unheard of by many

  • When Keller was 31, he received a phone call and was told his former roommate took his own life– that was the moment that Keller realized he needed to speak up

  • Since then, Keller has become a dedicated mental health advocate, using his social media platforms to create conversations, share personal experiences that make others struggling feel less alone, and encourage them to keep pushing forward

9-Minutes Read

By Kina Velasco | WeINSPIRE Journalist

SAN FRANCISCO, California – Imagine sharing an apartment with the same friend for three years and seeing the same face everyday, three years of daily goodbyes, hellos, and all the laughs and late-night conversations. That’s what Jarred Keller’s life was like, until he and his roommate moved out of their New York City apartment. Just three weeks after the two parted ways–Keller heading to Washington D.C., his roommate to Atlanta–Keller received a phone call saying that his roommate, a flight attendant at the time, took his own life during a layover due to mental illness.

“When you’re seeing people like my friend who are seemingly fine, take their own lives, you can’t ignore a person like that, who was fine on their day to day, then one day you get a call they’re no longer alive—you need to do something about it,” Keller said.

While Keller always knew he struggled with mental illness growing up, he never spoke up until his friend's passing. “That’s what really propelled me,” Keller said. “After he died, I felt like I had to do something, I couldn’t just keep quiet anymore. His death shook me up and made me feel like [I needed] to do more.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year, and more than 50 percent will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their life. Keller has been part of a movement that changes the narrative around mental health–de-stigmatizing it and directing public attention towards the need for more accessible services to prevent further tragedies, while showing us that you can thrive with mental illness.

Keller felt that sharing his own story and mental health journey via social media might just be enough to get others to seek help for themselves and prevent tragedies from happening. “I was trying to find something good out of something really sad,” he said.

Keller uses his Instagram and TikTok to get people talking about mental health and ultimately normalize it. Since being open about his journey online, Keller has noticed that almost everyone is going through similar experiences, yet the stigma of mental health remains.

“I’ll have ten people come tell me the exact same story, and it’s like, we are all going through these things but acting like we’re not - so we can’t bond or have that human connection, because we’re trying to keep up this facade of perfection. If we just let that down, we could support each other more,” Keller explained.

What exactly makes Keller’s content so memorable? He is known for posting videos of himself holding up signs with comforting phrases or quotes. Also, he shares videos that offer insightful advice yet incorporate humor to make them more digestible for audiences–through this, Keller is honest, relatable, and able to promote positivity.

“It can be tough to balance between something serious and humorous, but I know for me, a coping mechanism has been trying to find humor or something beautiful in something that is sad or super serious. When you come to my page, I don’t want you to leave feeling depressed,” Keller said.

Highly recognized for his unique perspective on vulnerability, Keller’s Instagram bio highlights that “There is strength in vulnerability”, despite this idea often being dismissed.

“I remember when I first started doing these videos, I would post and put my phone away because I didn’t want to see what people were gonna say about me; I thought they were just gonna rip me apart. But that’s when I started realizing there is a strength in this. You’re doing something that most people will never do…getting on social media and telling the world, it takes a lot to do,” Keller explained.

Keller’s work doesn’t go unnoticed. For example, he recently posted a video on Instagram discussing the difficulties of depression, which received ample positive feedback. One user applauded him for “being so open and sharing” and “helping so many people”, while another commented; “You don’t know how relatable this post was for me! The crazy thing is I needed to see this today. This helped me realize I’m not alone in this fight.”

While Keller makes sure people know him as “just a normal guy”, he gets recognized and praised by strangers who’ve seen his content on the street or at a local bar.

What Keller has found most rewarding thus far has been his recent experience with a family member who watches his videos.

“I had a family member, who I held in very high regard, come to me a few months ago and say [they had been taking] depression medication for over ten years. I had no clue that they dealt with that, even in the slightest, because they were the epitome of strong,” Keller said.

“That was a moment where I was like, ‘Oh wow, this really is helping people feel a little bit better’ about what they’re going through.”

While Keller’s work facilitates open conversations about mental health, improving access to mental health services for all remains a large issue. He says that marginalized groups are already enduring considerable trauma, only exacerbated by their inability to access adequate help.

Keller hopes that, once mental health becomes more normalized, this will put pressure on systems and institutions to understand the magnitude of the issue and work on making mental health care more accessible.

As a gay, Black man, Keller advocates for the social groups of his peers. “I try to embody a spirit of positivity and champion for the communities I exist within because a lot of times they don’t have anybody speaking for them, or they have people who are actively trying to pull them down,” he said.

Despite struggling with his own issues, Keller is still able to spread joy and push forward. Keller’s growing platform is a testament to how much his work resonates with others–and how needed people like him are when striving for a happier, healthier world.

If you need suicide or mental health-related crisis support, or are worried about someone else, please call or text 988 or visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s chat to connect with a trained crisis counselor.

Jarred Keller. Courtesy of Jarred Keller.

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