Scrolling through Kelsey Darragh’s popular YouTube channel, one thing is for certain — she has no filter.
Some of the titles and topics of her videos may make you blush (don’t ask), while others you will irresistibly click (we said don’t ask!), but Kelsey is both sassy and serious, and most often both at the same time.
However, you don’t have to dig deep into her YouTube channel to find Darragh — a 2008 Freedom High graduate now living in a Los Angeles apartment with a view of the famous Hollywood sign — tackling more serious issues dealing with gay, lesbian and trans issues, being in an abusive relationship, battling chronic pain, getting sober and even living with mental illness.
Darragh, who proudly says she is a three-time college dropout — Auburn University, the New York Film Academy and Los Angeles City College — used her edgy sense of humor to burst onto the YouTube scene in 2010, and started working for Buzzfeed in 2015. One of her favorite videos was about being chained to her mother Kristy Darragh, well-known local realtor, for 24 hours. And, while mom may blush at some of the titles on her daughter’s YouTube page, Kristy has appeared in a few of Kelsey’s videos herself.
Kristy knew that Kelsey had struggled her entire life with anxiety, panic and depression. But, while she was at Buzzfeed, Kelsey bravely revealed it to the whole world, in video form of course.
The reaction transformed her life, and her mission.
“My parents will tell you that I’m the most dramatic child that ever existed,” Kelsey says. “It’s no surprise that I’m using my voice for (both) entertainment and mental health activism. It was just kind of written in the stars for me.”
Kelsey Darragh’s first book is now available for presale and will be out for the holidays. Coming forward with her own mental health struggles has led to a career of helping others. We recently caught up with her to chat about making her life, well, an open book.
NN: You’re an author! How surprised will the people you went to school with in New Tampa be when they see your first book?
KD: Never in a million years would anyone think I would write a book, especially a workbook about mental health. But I love books. I was obsessed with the language arts programs at Tampa Palms Elementary. I was always in that library. I can see it right now in my head, I knew every corner of that library. Definitely a book lover, but never in a milion years did I think I had anything important to say or any stories to write about that anyone would give a sh-t about until this book. I still can’t believe it.
NN: What spurred your interest in mental health?
KD: At Buzzfeed, we were going to post videos every day that pertain to mental health education (during mental health month) and make them entertaining so people didn’t roll their eyes at the science-y nature of what we were posting. In the brainstorm, I had the idea to tell my mental health journey through a video using stop motion effects and all of the props used in the video were replicas of all the pills I had been prescribed over the years.
So, I would make the pills into different stop motion art and words and figures and told my story over voiceover through the very short film. When I posted it through Buzzfeed’s platform, it went completely viral. Hundreds of thousands of comments, millions of views, I was getting messages by the 1000s every day. People struggling with the same thing. Two people even got quotes from the video as tatoos on their bodies… just opening that door for conversation caused the floodgates to open.
NN: Which led to a second life as an activist?
KD: I always say I kind of became an accidental activist. Once I realized oh (crap) people really want more of this content, I needed to be a voice for people to have access to information. It’s so so funny to think of it as a passion, because for so many years it was the bane of my existence.
NN: And now, you are putting it in book form.
KD: I had been doing videos, more mental health content, public speaking, interviews….I realized it’s very hard to cover the entirety of it in one article or one video. I wanted to share the information in a way that was understandable and relatable because every book out there that I could find about mental health was so boring.
NN: It’s not a traditional mental health book written by a doctor. In fact, that’s what you think will appeal to those who might benefit from its contents?
KD: It was important to create a workbook, and not a traditional read-it-and-toss-it book. All the pages have exercises or games or different methods of managing mental health. I want people to carry it in their pocket like a little mental health Bible (laughs).
NN: There’re probably no greater thrill than seeing your book for the first time.
KD: The first thing I did when we confirmed the cover, I printed it out at the exact size and the dimensions and taped it on top of another book I have, and set it on my desk. I wanted to see how it looked amongst my other books. And, I studied the way Barnes & Noble marketed and laid out books in their stores. That’s why the book is bright neon yellow with giant bold letters that say ‘Don’t F*cking Panic.’ I want people to see this book.
NN: So, you scheduled a book about anxiety that is coming out in a year that has been plagued by coronavirus, lockdowns, job losses and the most nerve-wracking election season ever. Are you just lucky, or an evil marketing genius?
KD: Launching my first book in the middle of a pandemic and before an election season was not anything I imagined happening, but in a weird way something beautiful that has come of this pandemic is people are paying attention to their mental health now more than ever. They are foreced to come to terms with their struggles. I think the collective response has just been this book is so needed right now. the deep ernd into cold water. We have floaties and hot life guards here.
NN: Your mom (well-known local Realtor Kristy Darragh of Florida Executive Realty) and occasional video co-star must be thrilled.
KD: She is such a successful staple in New Tampa and I always saw her as a very strong, independent woman in a mentor position. To have something as incredible and crazy as a book coming out with my name on it, I know she is so proud for me to be breaking stigmas and talking about things people don’t talk about. Maybe this wasn’t the plan that they had for their daughter, to have their book debut with a giant ‘F bomb’ in the middle of it, but they have been nothing but supportive. My mom ordered like 10 books. Maybe she’s leaving it on the coffee table in the houses she’s selling. (laughs).
* Longtime New Tampa resident now living in Los Angeles.
* Can be seen on E!’s “Dating: No Filter.”
* First went viral on YouTube ten years ago with her video “Sh-t Girlfriends Say.” She began to attract more followers and started a web series on her channel, which has more than 116,000 subscribers. With an average viewership of 14+ million, Darragh tackles topics like sex, beauty, and mental health.
* Began making digital content for Buzzfeed like “Ladies’ Room” and “Adult Sh-t.”
* Created a top-tier show for Comcast’s “Watchable” called “Am I Doing This Right?”
* In 2019, was selected as a Sundance New Voice writer for her dark comedy series “Where We Are.”
* Is also a passionate member and supporter of the LGBTQ community as she says she identifies as queer and bisexual.
* Currently directing a documentary on Saraya Rees, a 14-year-old in Oregon battling mental illness, who was sentenced to 11 years in juvenile prison.