Mental health advocate, comedian and poet Demetrius Harmon shared his candid experience with mental illness in the University of Nebraska Program Council’s Zoom session on March 11.
Harmon, 23, first began sharing comedic videos on Vine and later YouTube when he was in middle and high school but later pivoted to sharing his struggles with depression and suicide with his combined 3 million social media followers in hopes of bringing social change. Harmon started the ‘You Matter’ Movement in 2015 after writing a sticky note to himself while he was battling suicidal thoughts, which eventually turned into a movement dedicated to reminding people of their worth through hoodies and other clothing items with the words, “You Matter.”
His main goal is to spread love and positivity and to normalize the complexities of the human experience. Harmon partners with brands like Wendy’s and the House of Hoops to speak to youth about the realness of mental illness, and the importance of good friends and community.
He looks for friends who are non-judgmental and can hold him accountable in a loving way. Friendships, Harmon said, help him fight his battle with mental illness.
“You have to be your most authentic self because I’m not going to judge you, so I need you not to judge me,” Harmon said. “It’s a safe place to cry; it’s a safe place to laugh; it’s a safe place to express whatever crazy thought you may have.”
Harmon said he is most himself when he’s alone or when he’s with his best friend Angelo, who sees him for who he really is.
“You have roles in people’s lives, so they see you a certain way. Even if I’m presenting myself as myself, the way I’m being perceived isn’t as that. I would say with Angelo, he really knows me, so I don’t have to be anything else but myself,” he said. “I don’t have to be a protector, I don’t have to be the hero, I don’t have to be the son. I’m just Demetrius. To be alone with a person and to feel so comfortable is a great feeling.”
Harmon said the disconnect between social media and real life makes it even more difficult for people to see the full reality of the human experience, and that’s why he aims to be as transparent as possible on his platforms. His motivation and drive for success can be a struggle for him, which is something he openly shares with his followers.
“I’m afraid of failing; I think about it all the time,” he said. “I don’t think I will fail, but I’m just afraid of not facing my full potential. Whatever that looks like, I don’t think success is one singular thing. But I’m afraid of not reaching my full potential.”
Tom Hermanek, the event host and a UPC council member, said Harmon was inspirational and someone he enjoyed speaking with.
“We really wanted to bring him because he talks about mental health in a unique way, but that’s not how he got his start,” Hermanek said. “He started off as someone who is famous for making really cool content on the Internet, and then he revealed that part of himself.”
Harmon highlights the reality that everyone is subject to caring for their own mental health, which comes with many challenges, Hermanek said. With Harmon being someone who was already successful and then making that pivot to talk about mental health, is what makes Harmon so relatable, he said.
Hermanek said one of his biggest takeaways from the event was Harmon’s mantra: “If I can conceive it in the mental, I can achieve it in the physical.”
Lauren Kubat, who introduced Harmon at the start of the event and a UPC council member, proposed that Harmon come speak to UNL students last fall when she saw a need for more conversations about mental health on campus.
“With being in the pandemic during this time, students are facing a lot of mental health stressors and triggers, and I thought it was a good opportunity to bring the topic in a serious and also comfortable way,” Kubat said.
Harmon continues to spread awareness about mental health issues through his “You Matter” movement and hopes people will learn to be more compassionate and understanding of each other.
“Everything I do is for other people, but I just know that I need to be okay first before I can ever help anyone else be okay,” Harmon said.