Matt James, Don Lemon, MJ Rodriguez and MILCK Discuss Their Childhood Struggles with Mental Health

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Matt James, Don Lemon, MJ Rodriguez and MILCK Discuss Their Childhood Struggles with Mental Health
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Don Lemon, Matt James, MJ Rodriguez and MILCK are sharing stories from their childhood struggles with mental health and reflecting on the lack of awareness surrounding the topic when they were young.

This week, PEOPLE and the non-profit organization Bring Change to Mind, which was started by actress Glenn Close, is hosting a four-part virtual panel series on mental health called Conversations with Bring Change to Mind in Partnership with PEOPLE.

The series continues today with a panel called Conversations with Bring Change to Mind: Race and Mental Health, led by actor and singer Javier Muñoz and featuring CNN anchor Lemon, former The Bachelor star James, actress Rodriguez and singer MILCK.

James, 29, kicked off the panel by sharing how he struggled with the lack of mental health awareness growing up as a young Black man — and he feels it is still missing from many conversations.

"The things that we should be seeking in terms of avenues to support what we're going through and what we're dealing weren't normalized at that age," he said. "To the point where, I received a bunch of criticism for a tweet about looking for a therapist in the area. It gave me the temperature of the country and the standpoint of men and their view of what is and isn't acceptable and where we should be seeking help."

"It's on people like us who have a voice and can create a space for people to do and act on these things that they should be acting on to receive the care they need," added James.

Lemon, 55, said that his mental health struggles as a child mostly stemmed from hiding the fact that he was gay from family and friends.

"That did affect my mental health, but not in the sense that I had to go and seek medication or anything like that," said Lemon. "I think I always sort of had a low-grade depression. I isolated myself as a child because I was holding this secret that I didn't want anyone to know about."

"And had we'd been more open about it, if there was no stigma on that issue, I probably would've seen a therapist as a child," he added.

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MILCK, 35, told the panel that mental health wasn't a topic of conversation growing up in a traditional immigrant family. Her parents were from Hong Kong, and were not accustomed to discussing mental health. The lack of openness about it, the singer said, made it difficult to reveal to her family that she was sexually assaulted at age 14.

"I was asking for help after the assault," she recalled. "There was no language or dialogue or vocabulary for my family to understand that it wasn't my fault. It immediately was this shaming — unintentional, my family loves me — but they didn't know how to react."

But after finally going to therapy, MILCK realized that she was not to blame for the incident. "That was wrong, it wasn't my fault, and I needed help," she said of the sexual assault. "And I had never asked for help until I was 28 or so. That asking for help completely opened everything up."

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Rodriguez, a Black transgender woman, said that like her fellow stars, she struggled growing up as a member of a marginalized group.

"Sometimes I think I'm too strong," said Rodriguez, 30. "But in reality sometimes we need someone to talk to. But having that strain on my mind, along with being someone who is a part of a community that didn't have the vernacular to speak about it, that created even more of a mental block for me."

"So I would encourage anyone who is dealing with both racial circumstances as well as being a part of the LGBTQ community: It's important to go and have conversations with a therapist," she said. "And make sure you go and find groups of people that you feel closest to."