In a recent cover story with SELF, Modern Family actor Sarah Hyland revealed that she struggled with her mental health after her kidney transplant failed — and made an important point about living with chronic illness. Hyland, who was born with kidney dysplasia, had her first kidney transplant seven years ago, with a kidney donated by her father. When her body started rejecting the kidney in 2016, doctors removed it. Hyland underwent a second kidney transplant in September 2017, when it was discovered that her younger brother was a match for donation, according to CNN. The star told SELF she also underwent surgery in spring of 2018 to repair an abdominal hernia and treat her endometriosis. Hyland told SELF that after six surgeries in the span of a year and a half, she is now “stable” and “super happy with life.”
But Hyland also said that her health challenges impacted her mental health. When her first transplant "failed", Hyland told SELF that she felt “very depressed,” and even experienced suicidal thoughts.
“I was very depressed,” she told the magazine. “When a family member gives you a second chance at life, and it fails, it almost feels like it's your fault. It's not. But it does.”
Fearing that the second surgery might not work either, Hyland says she felt hopeless: “For a long time, I was contemplating suicide, because I didn't want to fail my little brother like I failed my dad,” she said. "I had gone through 26 years of always being a burden, of always having to be looked after, having to be cared for because I've always had health issues ... Things like this can be really hard on a person."
Talking about her suicidal thoughts with people she trusted helped, Hyland told SELF. She also emphasized the importance of sharing your feelings with a good support network if you're facing hard times. “It’s not shameful,” she said. “For anybody that wants to reach out to somebody but doesn't really know how because they're too proud or they think that they'll be looked upon as weak, it's not a shameful thing to say. It's not a shameful thing to share.”
Experts say that Hyland's sharing her experience — of both having to undergo a second transplant, and the mental health affects that followed — are an important move for breaking stigma around living with chronic illness. "Depression is extremely common for people living with chronic health conditions, and symptoms of depression, such as fatigue and hopelessness, can overlap with many illnesses. It's understandable that people feel hopeless when their mobility and energy for daily life are limited," Kathryn Stamoulis, PhD, LMHC tells Bustle via email.
Hyland also spoke about feeling dependent in the interview: "That's why I'm so independent. In some areas of my life, I literally have no choice but to be dependent. I've been going through this for 28 years, and I still am learning how to let go of control and how to be patient.”
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), people with chronic health conditions have a higher risk of developing depression than people without chronic illnesses do. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also report that the link between mental health challenges and chronic illness is significant. In a 2017 study from the University of Waterloo, researchers found that young people between the ages of 15 and 30 living with chronic health issues are up to three times more likely to die by suicide than their non-disabled peers.
"It's crucial that people with chronic illness take care of their mental health," Stamoulis says. Counseling can be extremely beneficial. There are even good telehealth options that are more affordable and accessible than traditional therapy. Group counseling with people experiencing similar issues has been shown to be extremely effective. Social support is one of the best things we can do for our mental health and well-being, and it can be hard to connect with people who don't understand your experience. Additionally, it is isolating to be sick. The benefit of connecting with people experiencing similar struggles is immeasurable."
If you live with chronic illness, it’s important to manage any mental health issues that arise, and seek out help if you start feeling overwhelmed, depressed, or suicidal. By reaching out to a trusted friend, counselor, or family member when you're feeling down, you get access to the support you need to help you navigate difficult life experiences. There is no shame in getting help, so, if and when you need it, make sure to reach out.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. You can also reach out to the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 or the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386, or to your local suicide crisis center.