Over the past few years, Joshua Bassett has opened up about his journey with mental health and revealed that he'd been hospitalized after experiencing stress-induced heart failure and septic shock. The High School Musical: The Musical: The Series star has also been transparent about his experience with anxiety and panic attacks. Since then, he told GQ that he's been seeing a therapist, reading self-help books, and journaling.
As one of American Eagle's Members Always cast members, Joshua partnered with Bring Change to Mind, a nonprofit dedicated to helping end the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness. During Mental Health Awareness Month in May, the 21-year-old actor and musician gave a powerful presentation for the organization to destigmatize the shame surrounding mental health.
"Speaking up is the only way we'll break stigmas and realize our shared humanity. Shame cannot survive being spoken," Joshua wrote with a clip he posted to Instagram. In the video, he gets emotional as he reads out a few anonymous responses to a prompt asking students to write something they're afraid to say out loud.
After reading responses, which varied from individuals not wanting to repeat toxic familial cycles to fearing that they aren't enough, Joshua closed out the conversation with impactful quotes. "As I close, I want to ask the question: who would you be if you weren't afraid?" he started. "When we set ourselves free from the bondage of shame and fear and step into who we really are, there is no limit to who we could become. In a world of darkness, we can be beacons of light. Starting with yourself — when you change your inner world, you watch the world change — but it starts with you."
Since the presentation, Joshua caught up with Seventeen about his mental health advocacy work with American Eagle, his upcoming (and first-ever!) tour, and the highly-anticipated third season of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.
17: You’ve been candid about your mental health journey over the years and continuously use your platform to provide mental health resources. What inspired you to speak up for the first time?
Joshua Bassett: Growing up, there weren’t many people in the entertainment space who spoke openly about emotional well-being. There are so many of us out there who are hesitant to speak up because we mistakenly believe that we’re alone. To find inner peace, we have to be able to show up as our authentic selves in this world, and nothing makes me happier than using my voice to help people.
17: What drew you to this partnership with American Eagle and Bring Change to Mind?
JB: I love how American Eagle’s Members Always campaign is all-inclusive to humans — it’s about more than just clothes. they’re creating a safe space for change and a community of acceptance. Bring Change to Mind’s mission to end the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness is so important to me as someone who struggles myself, and knows the power in speaking up and being true to yourself.
17: You’ve also expressed that therapy has helped you and your mental health in big ways. Is there anything you wish someone would have told you before seeking professional help?
JB: I think people often wait until things get really bad before they seek help, and it doesn’t have to be that way. You wouldn’t wait until you were deathly ill to get a physical checkup, and I think routine conversations with someone you can trust are essential to staying healthy. It’s also not a sign of weakness- but instead one of strength, that you’re able to admit that everyone needs help now and again. You’re not broken for wanting support and help. I made a deal before I started therapy that I would be “honest at all costs” and I’ve never looked back.
17: What can fans expect from season 3 of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series?
JB: Season 3 is a whole lot of fun, with the expected drama that comes from theatre kids at summer camp. It felt like season 1 again, but fresher and more elevated. Endlessly proud of this show and the safe space that it provides!
17: Are there elements of Ricky’s character you can relate to? What has playing Ricky taught you over the years?
JB: Ricky always tries to do the right thing and be the best person he can be, despite what life throws at him and that’s an admirable trait I've tried to emulate. Over the seasons, Ricky has really developed a sense of emotional maturity and I think I've done and continue to do the same in my own life.
17: You’re about to embark on your first-ever world tour. Is there anything you’re looking forward to while you’re on the road?
JB: It’s my first tour so I'm honestly looking forward to the whole experience but most of all playing my songs live in person with the fans and getting to connect with everyone. I’m also really excited about playing with a band. A dream come true!
17: What advice would you give to your 17-year-old self?
JB: I would tell younger me: always speak your truth. Never settle for anything less than you deserve. find a safe space with people you trust, and simultaneously provide a safe space for everyone you interact with. Also, no matter what hardships arise, you will always come out the other side stronger than you were before.
Parts of this interview have been edited and condensed for clarity.
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