Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.

I have not seen a single episode of Prison Break, but I’ve heard a lot about it. I stood on the sidelines as a friend of mine binge-watched Prison Break season after season, sharing bits and pieces of the winged plot until I agreed to totally watch it as soon as my schedule permits. Anyways, this isn’t a Prison Break review. It is a commentary and listicle inspired by Wentworth Miller, the leading actor in Prison Break, whose genuine self-expression on mental health, wellness, and living has helped me find my voice.

I was introduced to Wentworth Miller in the most unconventional way. My Prison Break-loving friend sent me a relatively long text about a gentleman who has inspired her, and whose interview video she would like us to watch together. Here’s exactly what she sent me:

“There is a short video we need to watch together, it’s about this gentleman who’s always inspired me, I love this man. Disclaimer, he is very attractive by anyone’s standards, but he is the kind of man I look at and I don’t even think about his appeal. First thing that comes to my mind always is that this man is a beautiful human being, beautiful soul, like he is very gentle and intelligent (I don’t mean mainstream intelligence) and he is soooo genuine. I think a lot of what he says will resonate with you…”

By anyone’s standards, that qualifies as a very strong recommendation, and you can bet I replied with a stronger “yes” to the invitation. Not too long after that exchange, my friend and I spent 48 minutes and twelve seconds watching Wentworth Miller’s interview at the Oxford Union. Wentworth spoke of confidence, happiness, self-care, depression, and life in general. Watching him express, deeply and intelligibly, the truth of his mental health experience, the passion to share my own truth was ignited. So, I looked up more of his interviews, speeches, and talks. This chain of discovery climaxed when I came across his collection of archived Facebook posts. I took some time out to read, pause, reflect and read again.

Wentworth nearly took his life at 15. Since then, he has passed through more suicidal phases. His most severe attempt was, I judge, during his freshman year at Princeton. He survived. However, someone he looked up to and had great respect for, walked up to him and said: “I have to love you less now, to protect myself”. This statement hurt him a great deal, but it also became the stepping stone along his path of progress. This same statement drove him to silence for the next 20 years of his life. That meant he didn’t ask for help when he was in crisis as he would’ve liked to. However, one positive thing that came from that statement was its inspiration for his first screenplay and its prequel, Stoker and Uncle Charlie respectively. The screenplay was turned into a movie which although contemporarily categorized as fiction, is laced with Wentworth’s truth. Bringing that script to life encouraged Wentworth to keep speaking his truth to a wide audience.

Wentworth has since become comfortable sharing his story and assuring those suffering from depression and mental illness that they are not alone. He emphasizes that it is okay to speak out and ask for help, that mental illness is not something to be ashamed of, and that it is not one’s fault. One of the lines from his speeches that hugely resonated with me was at the Active Minds conference, Princeton. He mentioned that “sometimes getting out of bed in the morning can be just as worthy of praise and recognition as As.” He added that one can be bright and in crisis at the same time, that it doesn’t have to be an either/or and importantly, that one does not negate the other, rather one facilitates the other.

Here are two main takeaways of mine from reading, watching and reflecting on Wentworth Miller’s truths about mental health, wellness, and life.

  • Know what makes you happy: In response to the question by fans on Facebook: “Wentworth, are you happy?” Wentworth said that for the most part, he is content. He said that happiness as a permanent state-of-being seems ambitious, but contentment feels more achievable. By paying attention to when he is happy, he is able to reproduce his happy-making moments. This is true for me. I have realized that my consciousness of the things, events and people that make me happy has really helped me navigate not-so-good moments…my bleh and meh days. Also, knowing what makes me sad, what takes my joy away and what fuels my anxiety helps me to stay clear of toxicity. On my difficult days, I bend inwards and try to be content in the things I have going for me. I love taking walks, so I walk if my heart feels heavy. I love having deep conversations with people so I tend to steer conversations to the deep end. I love gospel music hence my repetitive gospel playlist. These do not always or automatically guarantee happiness for me but for the most part, they remind me that there are a couple of things in life that have the potential to make me happy when the circumstances are right. So, I stay grateful for the flicker of light in that potentiality.
  • Speak life into yourself: Wentworth’s last Facebook post in the year 2014 was a gripping analogy of “speaking life into oneself.” He describes a scenario of two bank vaults, each stacked with coins which represent words. In one vault, the words speak death. This vault is filled with hateful words, snarky comments, hurtful choruses and self-loathing. In the other vault, the coins are made of gold, and the words speak life. He believes it is his duty to fill up this vault by saying nice things to himself, talking about the things he appreciates, repeating these expressions of warmth till he believes them or opens himself up to the possibility that they are true. This year, I have been more intentional about self-kindness. This particularly stems from my deep cognizance of the liminality of my present life phase. I am one month away from my college graduation, and my days are frequently marred by career anxiety and future-focused uncertainty. More often than not, I have resorted to kind self-expressions, positive proclamations and filtering of thoughts. I have said to myself, “Sweetie, you scaled through 6 years of high school, and more than 3 years of college so far. You are definitely able to scale through whatever else lies in wait.” I make it a point to use words like “sweetie” “honey” “darling” when I address myself. The to-do lists I make on sticky notes are bordered with shabby drawings of hearts and flowers and happy faces. I have placed myself in a garden of beauty by treating myself as a child, speaking life to that child, and watching that child take up a life of her own in the peak season when repetition births belief.

Wentworth Miller has shared with the world, a lot more of his experiences and reflections on mindfulness and self-care, some of which are quite popular. He has written about being one’s own best friend, rediscovering a sense of hope and possibility in one’s daily life, finding success from alignment with oneself, and self-forgiveness. I love Wentworth for speaking about uncomfortable things from a place of vulnerability and uncommon brevity. These days, I catch myself saying to my friend during shared low moments, “what would Wentworth do…or say?”

Subscribe here for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving.

More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis