Teen Mom OG is a favorite guilty pleasure and it’s been one of TV’s highest-rated reality shows for years now. The cast invites us into their lives every week as we invite them into our homes, celebrating their highs and supporting their lows. The cast uses their hit show to bring awareness to everything from teen pregnancy to single parenting, adoption, and mental health struggles. Sharing these intimate and personal struggles is very admirable and I applaud them for their bravery.
I had the pleasure of interviewing my friend and main cast member Tyler Baltierra! You might know him as the green-eyed heartthrob, but I know him as the one who I can identify with the most because we have so much in common. His strength, maturity, and humor are what have cemented his place in the hearts of viewers. Despite the title of the series, many men tune in every week as well.
You, or someone you know, might have more in common with this reality star than you know. According to the American Psychological Association, 9% of men in the United States experience daily feelings of depression or anxiety; 1 in 3 men takes medication because of those feelings. About 1 in 4 men speak to a mental health professional and the suicide rate among American men is four times higher than the rate among women, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; women are more likely to attempt suicide but men are more likely to succeed.
What you are about to read can be, at times, graphic and triggering. This is Tyler’s truth and I applaud him for bravely opening up to me for the sole purpose of educating our youth.
“I feel, with my platform, I have a moral obligation to help people.” – Tyler Baltierra
River Ceballos: Hey Tyler! Thank you for agreeing to share a bit of your story. How are you?
Tyler Baltierra: I am doing great! Staying busy with the launch of Tierra Reign, which is Catelynn and I’s clothing line for kids and renovating a new house that we just bought. So life is fast paced at the moment.
RC: For so many seasons, we’ve seen you as the incredibly fun and goofy member of Teen Mom OG. We had no idea about your struggle with mental health issues. Why have you chosen now to open up?
TB: Well I have always been super open and honest about my life. I shared a little bit of what I went through on Teen Mom and also in our book Conquering Chaos. I have suffered from depression since I was about 11 years old.
RC: Do you think your sense of humor is somewhat of a mask to hide what you deal with internally?
TB: Oh absolutely! Sometimes people may just assume that since I tend to be so goofy that I have it all figured out, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I go to counseling weekly for my issues and some days are easier than others. I have learned throughout my life that being goofy and silly are the easiest ways to avoid my inner demons.
RC: I think you’re incredibly brave for opening up like you have. Like myself, I’ve chosen to use my platform and my voice to raise awareness on these important topics because there is such a lack of positive male roles models. Why do you think that is?
TB: Thank you! I honestly think it’s because men are stereotyped, just like all genders are. Society says men have to be strong, masculine, practically invincible to any type of emotions. We are expected to “man up,” “take charge” of our emotions, and “don’t cry” because boys don’t cry. Unfortunately, some men with a platform are so conditioned in this behavior they don’t see the opportunity that is passing them by or even the issue itself. I was raised in a household full of women, so I was never told by a male influence to withhold my emotions or to not cry. As a kid, my emotions were embraced, the good and the bad, which is how it should be in my opinion. To deny someone worthy of an emotion is NOT or NEVER will be our right.
RC: What kind of mental health issues have you dealt/been dealing with? What do you think sparked these issues, if you don’t mind me asking?
TB: I have struggled with depression since I was 11 years old, when I attempted suicide. At that age, my dad was just sent back to prison for the second time and I was so used to having him around for a little bit and then all of a sudden, he was just gone again. I directly compared his addiction to my worth and just thought if I wasn’t good enough or loved enough for him to stay clean and out of prison, then why even live anymore? I was very alone and empty.
RC: You’ve mentioned that you suffered from sexual abuse when you were younger. Can you go into a quick overview of how long that went on and how long it took for you to speak up about what was going on?
TB: The first time I was sexually abused was by my sister’s friend, who is four years older than I am. I was only about nine. She forced me to do things my innocent young brain had no clue about up until that point. It went on for an entire day straight; it was violent, rough, and very forceful. The other time was also with one of my older sister’s friends, but at this point, I was about 12 and she was about 16. My sister was watching me while my mom worked a night shift at the bar. We went over to her friend’s house where they were having a party. The younger kids had to stay in the bedroom and watch movies. As time went on and the teens partied, my sister’s friend came into the room. She made me do things to her and she did things to me and I just pretended to be asleep. It only lasted for about an hour.
Those events shaped my idea of sex and made me very hypersexual at an age when being hypersexual was inappropriate. I spoke up randomly trying to gauge people’s responses to what had happened, and was surprised that all the boys I told didn’t think it was a big deal. They thought it was “cool.” I think harboring this and getting the impression that it wasn’t that big of a deal made me feel very alone and different. I wanted someone to acknowledge that it was wrong and help justify why I felt so guilty. I thought at that age that sexual abuse when it comes to boys just wasn’t that big of a deal.
RC: People deal with depression and anxiety differently. Personally, my weight often fluctuates when my depression and anxiety are heightened. Do you experience any physical changes like this? What are some changes that you go through mentally and physically?
TB: I don’t really experience any physical symptoms of depression, but when I have major anxiety, I practically go deaf and all I hear is my heartbeat ringing in my ears, my hands get all sweaty, and I feel like I am going to have a heart attack. Depression for me is just pure mental exhaustion from trying to put on such a happy face. I go deep, angry, and stay that way for a while. I shut down and become completely introverted, which is the opposite to how I usually am.
RC: What are some of your warning signs that your depression/anxiety is worsening?
TB: I start becoming very negative and small things start to irritate me. If I go days without saying anything positive and feeling constant sadness or anger, I know that I need to increase my therapy appointments.
RC: It’s often believed that being open and vulnerable about mental health issues makes us less of a man. What do you have to say to that?
TB: I think it’s the complete opposite! It takes a real man to admit when he needs help and I think that the only way to make a real change in the world is for us (men) to talk about it more. We need to stop living our lives in the dark and find the strength in being vulnerable. Vulnerability is a strong trait in my opinion.
RC: Does being in the public eye make it harder to deal with these issues or do you appreciate the platform you have to potentially help people?
TB: I think anyone who is blessed with a platform from being in the public eye has a moral and ethical responsibility to help people. I feel compelled to help people with my vulnerability and story.
RC: Anything you currently working on anything right now that you can share?
TB: The startup of my new clothing line for kids, Tierra Reign, keeps me plenty busy. But there is a little something in the stirring pot I can’t talk about much, but stay tuned!
RC: Do you have any positive male role models who you look up to in the entertainment industry?
TB: To be completely honest, no…which is actually quite sad when I think about it. Hopefully that changes sometime soon.
RC: What helps you when you’re feeling down? Resources, family, friends, any activities?
TB: I am a big supporter and fan of therapy. I have been going since I was a kid and I can’t tell you enough how much it helps me. My family helps me a lot too, when I open up to them about my issues. Being active is a huge help as well, but writing is my true resource for expressing my emotions.
RC: Does the way you cope with your issues today differ from how you coped when you were younger?
TB: I never really coped when I was younger. I didn’t say anything to anybody, which wasn’t coping. After going to therapy for a while I learned that the more I spoke up, the better I felt. So now as an adult, I am very self-aware and know myself very well. I pay very close attention to my emotions and my reactions, along with my behaviors.
RC: Any advice for a young man dealing with mental health issues?
TB: My advice is to SPEAK UP. Speak to a teacher, a friend, a family member, or someone you can trust. Don’t ever feel ashamed about how you feel. We are human beings and our feelings and emotions are NEVER wrong…the only thing that can be wrong is how we react to those emotions and feelings. Allow yourself to authentically feel those emotions with no apologies.
RC: Tell us a little about Reunited, the show you produced and created.
TB: What really made me want to do the show were the countless social media messages from people wanting to find their birth parents. People feel comfortable reaching out to me and my wife because they know our adoption story. Only 2% of pregnant women choose adoption for their babies. So when these women are in this situation, 98% of their peers can’t relate to them at all. My wife and I become those relatable people for them when they need us. I wanted to give back to the viewers and the people who have blessed me with their undying support and Reunited was a way of doing that. I felt a call to action to use this platform and help as many people as I possible. It was amazing to see something you created in your head come alive, and to witness such a powerful and everlasting memory.
RC: Was Reunited a form of activism for you? Having done speaking engagements, written a book, etc…is it safe to say that you’re embracing a career as an activist?
TB: Wow! I have never been asked that before. I am chuckling as I write this, because I really don’t know. All I do know for sure is you are what you believe in. If you don’t stand for anything you will fall for everything.
RC: So it seems you’ve always had a passion to help people?
TB: Yeah, I think it’s safe to say that I have always had that passion. The only reason I decided to even do 16 & Pregnant in the first place was to show people what adoption looks like today. I had no idea it would continue to evolve the way it did with Teen Mom, where we would eventually showcase addiction, adoption, mental illness, and parenthood. But like I said before, I feel a huge amount of responsibility to shed light on certain issues that relate to me personally. There is a reason MTV decided to choose me and my wife. There was a reason for us to courageously share our most intimate moments as human beings with the world. I wholeheartedly believe that the reason is to help as many people with your story as you can.
RC: Any quotes or mantras that you live by or that help you during your darker days?
TB: “Suffering builds character,” because even the strongest of people had their strength built up brick by brick through suffering and sorrow. You have to feel sad in order to identify happiness and distinguish the two.
RC: Are you as ready to shatter these stigmas, break these stereotypes, and pave the way for young men as I am?
In terms of building a brotherhood of male celebrities to raise awareness about mental health issues, Tyler says, “I’m all for working together with you and other young men in this industry to help educate our youth. If we could get every name involved to talk about something different, something they’ve struggled with…that’d be great! We could really be the first set of men to make a difference. We can be trailblazers, and pave the way for everyone else.”
I think it’s safe to say that Tyler has found his calling. No matter what he’s talking about or working on, from sharing his life story to talking about teen pregnancy and his adoption story, Tyler exudes a confidence and passion that is so rare. I’ve never met anyone as passionate about activist work. Without this career, I wouldn’t have been able to reach as many people as I have, and for that I feel very blessed. The attention can get overwhelming at times but with great blessings comes great responsibility and Tyler understands it fully! My career is about being vulnerable and sharing my story with people. I’m grateful I’ve found somebody else who knows what I’m talking about.
Thank you again to Tyler, and catch him, his wife Catelyn, and their beautiful daughter Nova on Teen Mom OG Monday nights on MTV!
You can see what Tyler is up to by keeping up with him on social media!
River is a spokesperson, print model, actor and activist. Follow him on Twitter @RiverC_Official.