College student opens up about struggles with mental illness: ‘Don’t be ashamed’

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Twenty-one-year-old Ethan Payne likes to keep to a strict schedule these days, which includes a good night's sleep, class at the University of Virginia, a workout at the gym, and a healthy dinner in the dining hall.

"I feel great, and I can honestly say that was the turning point in my life mentally, and now I feel like a different person," Ethan said.

But, it took Ethan years to get to this place of peace and he still struggles with the ghosts of his past.

"Mental illness and crazy person to me meant the same thing, and I still find myself today when I see the 'Parkland shooter had mental illness,' that pops in my mind, Parkland shooter was crazy, and I'm like I have a mental illness, I'm not crazy, I don't think," Ethan said.

Ethan Payne

Ethan has clinical depression and anxiety.

Back in eighth grade, his dad started noticing his son struggling.

"Small things would happen where I would go into these slumps where I would get really anxious about small things," Ethan said.

Yet, the stigma associated with mental illness caused Ethan to refuse to admit he had a problem all throughout his time in high school, playing baseball for Douglas Freeman High School in Henrico.

"My thought was I'm not a crazy person, I don't need to go to counseling, I don't have depression," Ethan said.

Ethan Payne

Then things got worse when he went away to the University of Mississippi.

"I called my dad, and I was like, hey dad, I think you might be right, I think I need to talk to somebody," Ethan said.

Ethan calls his decision to finally seek help one of the best days of his life.

"I mean it was awful and terrible because I realized that I had a mental illness, but at the same time, from that point on instead of just hopelessly getting swarmed by it and letting it affect me, I was able to go out and make lifestyle changes," Ethan said.

But, data from the Virginia Department of Health show some teens don't get the help they need before it's too late.

CBS 6 uncovered numbers that show between 2007 and 2016, 401 teens in Virginia committed suicide.

Three-quarters of them were boys.

And, the number of boys who took their own lives more than doubled between 2007 and 2016.

Among them, Ricky Rash's son Eric, who killed himself in January of 2011.

"Eric was 15, five weeks shy of his 16th birthday," Rash said. "I guess the girls will sometimes admit to their feelings a whole lot more often than boys will."

Rash said his son did not fit in with other kids at Nottoway High School and that he connected more with adults, but he and his wife said they had no idea Eric was suicidal.

"He knew what the gun would do, he literally set his alarm for 12:30 a.m. and left Thursday morning at 12:30 sometime during that morning and drove about 5 miles to his favorite hunting spot," Rash said.

Eric

Now, Rash and his wife speak out about their son's death in an effort to prevent other teens from taking their own lives.

"Statistically what we've learned is that talking about suicide actually lowers the incidents of suicide," Rash said. "We try to convey to those kids and those young adults how bad we hurt, how bad we feel, how guilty we feel."

And, Rash said a number of kids have reached out to them saying that just hearing their story helped them to change their minds about killing themselves.

"A young man came in Tuesday morning with the rope that he had planned to go hang himself with that Monday and he got help, and he's still with us, that's why we're willing to speak out about it," Rash said.

He said more folks need to talk openly about teen depression and suicide and stop stigmatizing mental health or more parents will feel the pain he and his wife still cope with every day.

"It's devastating and yet we have to get up every day put our shoes on and go to work just like everybody else," Rash said.

Ethan Payne

Back on campus, Ethan said finding out your child has a mental illness can be challenging, but it's the same as with any medical issue.

And, he said being open, honest and understanding will lead to a better outcome.

"Don't be afraid to talk to somebody, don't be embarrassed, don't be ashamed," Ethan said. "Worst case scenario you find out you have depression, but then you can take steps to feeling better and you'll feel like your normal self like you used to."

For more resources related to teen depression, visit the Cameron K Gallagher Foundation in Henrico County, which is a non-profit devoted to providing support to teens with mental illness.

CBS 6 News is working for you. Click here to email a tip to the CBS 6 Problem Solvers. Be sure to leave us your name, phone number and detailed description of the problem. You can also leave a message by calling 804-254-3672.

Need help? Contact the CBS 6 Problem Solvers.