In their own words: Esai Sanchez works to destigmatize depression

This story is a first-person account of a partner on the Youth Leadership Council, which you can read more about here.

By Bonnie Rochman/Starbucks Newsroom

ESAI SANCHEZ, 21, Ashburn, Va.:

I grew up with a single mom who worked day and night to provide for me. She was an alcoholic. She worked so much that I pretty much grew up by myself. I don’t have any siblings.

In seventh grade, my mom married my stepdad. Then it was like, ‘Oh, I have a father.’ We had our ups and downs. He was from Peru, a chef and an amazing cook. I was overweight when he married my mom.

He had to become the bad guy to change my habits. He took on that role knowing I wouldn’t like him. He started to make me not drink soda. He’d make me healthier lunches; he’d make me walk more. I knew he cared about me.

After high school, I started community college. I was doing the best I could until I couldn’t go back the next semester because of money reasons. That’s when I applied to Starbucks as a barista, in December 2015. I work in Leesburg, Va.

My stepfather and I got into a big argument in September 2016. It ended up with us not talking until the day he died. It was April of this year when my life completely changed. My stepfather committed suicide on Easter. I heard screaming from my mom and heard her yelling my name. She said he hanged himself and I went to the basement and saw him there.

We think he was suffering from depression. We didn’t think it was as deep as it was. Since that day, it’s never been the same. It’s always been like: What would life be like if that didn’t happen? We had to leave our house. At the moment we found him, the house felt cold. It felt like we couldn’t be in there. Too many memories and too much heartache. You don’t want to be reminded of that.

It’s been hard to deal with my emotions and how come someone would do that to themselves and not know they have people who love them. I’ve been using that story to help me understand more and help others, to put my voice out there, to let people know they’re not alone in dealing with depression.

On the Youth Leadership Council, I’ve put my voice out there. I did a walk for suicide prevention and used my voice to communicate about suicide prevention by talking to customers. The regulars who come into my store every day and got to know me, I told them. They were upset but encouraged that I didn’t let what happened to my family victimize me. I went back to community college. I post flyers about suicide prevention directing people to Lifeline for Help.

When we were in Seattle for the Youth Leadership Council, we told our stories. I was listening to everyone talking about trying to improve other people’s lives. I learned from them how to do that as well. I want to make sure that people aren’t killing themselves over bullying.

I’m studying psychology and want to be a child therapist. My stepfather’s death gave me more clarity about what I want to do. But it’s more than that. What happened to me and to my family is a reason why I want to help other people.

—As told to Bonnie Rochman

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