Ottawa YouTuber gets 'real' about mental health to help others
'I just want to start a conversation,' says Joey Kidney, 24, who adds his videos resonate with teens
CBC Ottawa is asking people who make a living talking to the camera to share what it's like to be YouTube famous, for our series My YouTube Life.
At age 24, Joey Kidney has found success as a YouTube personality, author and podcast host. But unlike a lot of his contemporaries, he doesn't focus on the glamour that can come with fame.
Instead, on his self-titled channel, Kidney shares deeply personal stories about his mental health struggles, including why he started to see a therapist and how he copes with depression.
"I didn't want it to be relatable; I wanted to be real. And I wanted to help people," says Kidney.
It's no surprise given that Kidney began making videos as an outlet to manage his feelings.
He says that in high school, hockey was his life. But after multiple injuries on the ice, he had to step out of the rink for good.
While recovering, Kidney found himself spending hours alone watching YouTube videos and decided to try "vlogging" himself. In a confessional-style monologue, he described what it felt like to live with anxiety and depression.
It was only a matter of time before Kidney was pulled into his guidance counsellor's office to discuss "the video."
"Everyone at my school saw the video, and I thought I was in trouble. But instead, the guidance counsellor said, 'Whatever you're doing, keep doing it. Students are saying you're helping them,'" says Kidney.
From there, he poured himself into creating videos about mental health, love, relationships, insecurities and self-love. He's reached an audience of over 750,000 through hundreds of videos.
Kidney says he's not a mental health expert, and doesn't pretend to be.
But he's heard from teenagers who say they're experiencing similar issues, and his videos resonate with them. He says his goal is to connect with those who may not yet be ready to seek professional help.
"I just want to start a conversation," explains Kidney.
On camera, he's talked his way through bloody noses, hair loss, and the way his throat closes up before trying to speak publicly.
His goal is to shed light on what it's really like to live with mental health struggles, encouraging his viewers not to be ashamed about what they're going through.
For Kidney, talking about and filming his own anxieties — including his anxiety attacks for a week — has helped him cope.
"I stopped trying to stop anxiety, and tried to stop and understand it," Kidney says, adding that at the end of the week, he felt a sense of relief.
But YouTube stardom can bring its own struggles.
"There's the stress of having to create your own character. Even if it's you — it's still a character. And having to be in character can be stressful," he says about the burnout he experienced.
"I almost quit last year, but I decided to try Tiktok and focus on my book," says Kidney.
His book was released in 2019 and he continues to make videos through the pandemic.
Growing up with Joey
Over the last eight years, Kidney says, he's heard from hundreds of young people who've shared their mental health struggles with him. He says those connections make the job worth it, especially when he meets fans who've grown up alongside him.
Mary Anne MacGillis didn't go to high school with Kidney, but has been watching his videos since she was also a student in Ottawa.
She says she was drawn to someone her age and from her hometown, and felt she could relate to his raw vulnerability. And seeing his mental health challenges helped her identify her own, adds MacGillis.
"I was trying to figure out what anxiety was and what it meant to match the word to the feeling," says MacGillis, who reached out to a therapist after watching Kidney. "That really helped me to be able to start learning how to cope." At 21, MacGillis is feeling better and still listens to Kidney's podcasts.
Kidney says this ongoing connection motivates him to keep going.
"I started out making content for myself when I was 16, sitting in my room alone, sad, and with nothing to do. Now, I make that content to help kids like me around the world to get up each day and live their lives."