‘Southern Charm’ Star Kathryn Dennis Says ‘There Is So Much Stigma Around Mental Health’

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Tonight’s episode of Southern Charm is going to be a tough one for fans to watch, and it was even harder for cast member Kathryn Dennis to live through — and then relive, watching it played back on national television. The last two years, Kathryn has undergone extraordinary scrutiny, even for that of a reality show star, as she went to rehab and signed an agreement which tied the future custody of her children, Kensie and Saint Ravenel, to her continued sobriety, with scheduled and on-demand drug tests.

But in light of the recent suicide deaths of designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain, Kathryn wanted to speak out about the subject of mental health and the stigma that stops many people from seeking help, continuing treatment and speaking frankly to friends and family about what is really going on.

Kathryn says that last week, when tonight’s episode of Southern Charm was teased, it seemed as if she was avoiding her friends because she was drinking or using drugs, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. Dennis says that she was experiencing a “perfect storm” of depression and anxiety, combined with loss and a stressful interpersonal relationship concerning her children.

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Dennis explains that two of her grandparents had recently passed, she had been trying to back off her medication, and she was still reeling from the upsetting confrontation in Hilton Head, which brought up painful episodes from the past. She says she needed to regroup before facing everyone.

“There is so much stigma around mental health and specifically depression, and there shouldn’t be. However, at the time, I needed to be alone with my thoughts and I didn’t know exactly how to broach that subject with my friends. I didn’t want them to judge me. I had been judged so much already.”

Kathryn explains that before the Hilton Head trip with the Southern Charm cast, she was doing well, increasing her time with the children, and she had started working at Gwynn’s — a Mt. Pleasant department store — as a personal shopper and stylist.

“Before Hilton Head, I was feeling good and doing well, and due to stigma, I didn’t want to be on anti-depressants, and so I made a mistake and stopped, and got hit by an emotional tidal wave. I needed to regroup and be alone and not talk to anyone, and so that’s what I did.”

In retrospect, Kathryn says she knows she scared her friends, who she now knows were genuinely worried about her. She particularly considers Danni Baird someone who really understands her personal struggle.

“I certainly didn’t want anyone to worry and felt that if I told them I was even struggling in the slightest, I would just be a burden on my friends, but that’s the illness talking. I didn’t think anyone would care.”

She also added that even during the time she took a break from filming, she never missed a single day of visitation with her children.

The episode preview shows Naomie and Danni knocking on Kathryn’s door and not getting an answer, and though she is sorry she worried them, the idea of being confronted on camera at that moment caused her extreme anxiety.

“In that moment, I didn’t want to open the door and acknowledge such a sensitive topic in front of a camera. I wanted to emotionally prepare myself to talk to my friends one on one so that I could carefully explain something I had never spoken to them about before. But I’m glad I did and I hope to show the people watching the show that anyone can struggle with depression or whatever it may be, and not be ashamed.”

While Kathryn has spoken out before about her time in rehab, she didn’t go into detail about how much she learned about her own mental health struggles. Her diagnosis was depression, anxiety, and CPTSD (Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Though she was there for substance abuse, she says that learning that she was self-medicating was illuminating.

“Rehab was an eye-opener. I learned so much about myself and the world around me. I learned that it wasn’t so much about addiction for me, but understanding that indeed I was dealing with trauma and it is scientifically a chemical thing.”

Dennis says that starting on antidepressants changed everything and she was then able to make the necessary changes in her life.

“I wanted to confront those issues and through therapy and going on medication for a while, I was able to pick myself up, dust myself off, and live my life despite ongoing challenges.”

Dennis hopes that her speaking out will lets fans of the show know that they are not alone and that depression and mental illness do not discriminate by age, socio-economic status, race, or color. She added that anyone’s friends and family will likely be more understanding and compassionate than they can imagine.