Dutch de Carvalho Is the TikTok Best Friend You Should Be FollowingWe talked to @dutchdeccc about health anxiety, depression, and the wrong way to talk about loss.
If you’re on the mental health side of TikTok, you’ve probably come across the wise Dutch de Carvalho (aka @dutchdeccc), a delightful New Yorker who doles out the best advice and storytimes on the app. From hilarious pep talks and bathtub reflections to heartwarming mental health advice, Dutch makes talking about feelings seem less scary and intimidating.
Here, the teacher and TikTok star chats with Wondermind about how he’s feeling lately, experiencing Grey’s-Anatomy-levels of loss in a short period of time, and the connection between mental health, safety, and equality.
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WM: How are you doing lately?
Dutch de Carvalho: I would say I'm doing better. The last few months, it's been a bit of a struggle. Honestly, the last year has been a bit difficult, but I feel like I'm finally getting my footing a little bit more again. … I'm not doing great, but I'm not doing worse. I'm on an upward trajectory.
WM: Do you mind sharing what’s been going on?
Dutch: Totally. I have depression and anxiety. When it comes to anxiety, I have health anxiety, and the past year I have been dealing with various health things—all pretty minor—but when you deal with health anxiety, they are magnified and it's hard for me to separate myself from them. I've had a lot of changes going on, so to be navigating the health anxiety and some of the health things going on, it just felt like one thing after another and I couldn't quite get my footing.
It's something I've started working on with my therapist, sort of acknowledging and recognizing all of the change that's happened in the past year. It's like the acceptance stage in the five stages of grief. Grief is so many more things than just losing somebody—it can be losing things you've done and losing experiences and losing identities and things like that. So in the past year, some of that has happened. I feel like I'm still working through it all.
WM: What helps you manage your health anxiety when you’re at the doctor?
Dutch: I'm sure my doctor's office notes are probably like, “Very anxious,” or something like that. But I always let them know upfront, "Listen, I'm anxious about this." I find it really does help. … [It] can be intimidating because while I've always had fantastic nurses and things like that, I've definitely come up against doctors who… I remember sitting in a doctor's office and she was like, "So you have depression?" And I was like, "Yes." And she was like, "Do you do mindfulness worksheets for it?" And I was like, "No. I'm in therapy." She was like, "OK, so that's taken care of." She just literally said, "So that's taken care of," and went to the next question.
I know it can be intimidating when you're sitting in those spaces to advocate for yourself, but I think that's number one, and to not be ashamed about it. … I try to never have shame around my anxiety because it's my anxiety. It's not unnatural. Everybody has their own reasons for why they're anxious about something, and so I have no shame around it.
[Then] I try to think about what I'm really worried about. Along the same sort of thinking with that is: This is a moment in my life, not a lifetime of this moment.
WM: What was it like when you first started going to therapy?
Dutch: I was dealing with a lot in middle school and emotionally was all over the place. I had a lot of things going on in my family and at home, and so they started mandating [that] I go to school counseling. My school counselor in middle school was amazing. She was the only teacher, well, person in school who I felt understood me, and I loved counseling. We basically did group therapy. Once a week, I had to go to counseling with two or three other kids who were experiencing similar at-home situations and things like that. I loved it—it was my favorite thing ever.
Then in high school, I didn't continue with counseling. I didn't really vibe with the counselors at my high school, and it just wasn't something that was in the cards.
Then when I was in college, in between my sophomore and junior year, one of my oldest and dearest friends died by suicide. So when I went back in the fall, I was like, OK, this is probably something I should go and work on. Also, I'm paying money and this counseling center is included in my tuition, so I'm going to go and get my money's worth and get this free mental health care while I can. So I did. I had an amazing therapist there. I think dealing with the loss of a best friend at such a young age—or the loss of anybody—you continually deal with it for the rest of your life. But even after I dealt with the initial loss, I continued seeing him throughout college.
When I graduated college, it was that hustle to try to find a therapist again because I didn't have an in-place system. And it took me about a year to find somebody. I saw four or five different therapists before I landed on the one that I'm with now, and I've been with him for three-ish years.
WM: Do you mind sharing about your friend who died by suicide? What is something you learned during that grieving process?
Dutch: I don't think any loss is ever expected, but I think one thing that really took me by surprise was how much people struggle with supporting people who've lost someone when the person that you've lost has died by suicide. I think people don't know what to say. They don't know what to do. It still feels very taboo in a lot of places or in a lot of conversations.
For me, it was just somebody that I loved that I lost. It didn't matter. Well, it does matter to me how they died, but I just needed for the other person to see me as somebody who lost somebody. It wasn't anything beyond that. I think people were just really, really unsure what to say.
I was always honestly shocked by the things that people would say. They would say things to me like, "Well, were there any signs?" I would always be on the other side of that. Well, if there were signs, we saw them and we weren't able to stop it. If there weren't signs, we didn't see them, and what were we missing? That was always a question that was like, that's not going to provide me comfort.
WM: Yeah, what’s really the end goal of those conversations?
Dutch: Or, “No, I was too busy doing something, and I didn't try hard enough.” A lot of times when you're somebody who has lost someone to suicide, you're constantly in your head. Did I miss something? Could I have done more? What if I was there? What if I had called her five minutes before? There are so many questions you run through. So when people would ask things like that, I don't know if people were really hearing what they were asking.
I was really lucky though in that I had a group of friends in college that I lived with. We lived in a house together, and they were incredibly supportive. We joked that we were like the Grey's Anatomy of college because something was always going wrong. Our freshman year, somebody passed away. Then my best friend passed away who we went to college with, who was all of our friend. Then my other best friend who I lived with, her mom passed away. Then another person in our year passed away who we were really close with. So it was like Grey's Anatomy. For a group of 21-year-olds, the amount of loss that we encountered in three or four years was immense.
WM: What helped you cope with losing so many people in such a short period of time?
Dutch: Humor for sure. We all have a little bit of a dark sense of humor. We'll jokingly say, "Oh, when everybody was dying," which, when other people hear that, they're [shocked]. But the humor really helped us get through, in part because a lot of the people that we lost were also incredibly funny, joyous people. If they were still here, we knew that they would do the same. The laughter was a way of honoring them in a sense and honoring our emotions. So humor was definitely a big thing.
I think we never had any expectations of each other in terms of how or what our grieving was supposed to look like. Whether it was laughing with each other or [what] we would call only child moments. If you felt you needed to just have a day by yourself, you [could say], "I'm going to have an only child day.” Like, "Oh, I'm going to go get coffee." "Oh, can we come with you?" You'd be like, "I'm going to have an only child day. I'll see you guys later." There was never any like, “Oh, she didn't let me go get coffee with her or something.” It was always like, “Oh, cool. That's what she needs. That's what's going on.”
All of those things really helped us move through it, and also just the fact that we went through it together. It was uncharted territory. We might have lost a grandparent or something like that, but none of us had faced such significant close loss until those three or four years. So we were just sort of all figuring it out together.
WM: You’re always so honest and candid on TikTok, especially when you do your apartment tours and show your reality of living with depression. What helps you out when you're going through a depressive episode?
Dutch: With my depression, so much of it is around what I deserve or what I'm allowed to have or think I should be allowed to have. I tell myself, “You have the right to a space that feels comfortable and safe and clean and all of those things.” I try to almost separate myself from my depression. I'm like, OK, I'm a housekeeper right now. This is my task. Whether it's [thinking] I don't deserve to have a clean space or I'm not worthy of it or whatever it is, I try to detach myself from that and be like, OK, get this bed taken care of, or whatever it is.
WM: You're so good at giving pep talks to everybody on TikTok, but what's a pep talk that you need to hear right now?
Dutch: You've done everything you can, and you're doing everything you can. Sometimes I get so worried that I'm not doing enough or I'm not doing as much as I could or maybe there was another point in my life where I was doing more, so why am I not doing as much as I was at that point in my life? But I would remind myself that I'm doing it. I’m doing everything that I can, whatever that looks like.
WM: Any words of wisdom you want to leave us with?
Dutch: Mental health is everything. Obviously there are so many different aspects of mental health, like emotional intelligence and dealing with emotions—all those things—but I think people forget that mental health goes beyond just your emotions. It's having someplace safe to live and food to eat and living in a community where you feel safe and your rights are respected and you're not worried or fearing for your safety or your rights or your ability to simply exist.
So when people talk about mental health advocacy and things like that, I hope they're also holding all of those things just as closely and just as importantly. Because if somebody doesn't have someplace to live, how are you expecting them to deal with their depression? Or if somebody is worried that their existence as a trans person is at risk and could be criminalized, how are you expecting them to deal with their anxiety or show their joy or any of those things? As people advocate for mental health, I hope they're also thinking about the ways that they advocate for everyone else's liberation.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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