Family Don’t End With Blood: What AKF and YANA Are All About

If you’re not part of the Supernatural fandom, the acronyms in this title probably mean nothing to you. However, although they’re part of a movement in one fandom, what they represent could benefit members of all fandoms. Here is some enlightenment: “AKF” stands for Always Keep Fighting, and was/is the name of actor Jared Padalecki’s campaign to raise funds and awareness for battling the stigma against mental illness. The movement is almost a year old, and since its conception it has raised many funds and much awareness for organizations like To Write Love On Her Arms. The movement has been widely embraced by the fandom, and during San Diego Comic-Con last year, we showed Jared how much both he and AKF mean to us.

Last week, fellow Supernatural actors Jensen Ackles and Misha Collins supported their castmate/friend’s mission to help fans who struggle with depression by launching You Are Not Alone, or YANA, via the Creation Stands website.

The funds raised by YANA will support a new project; the two actors have also decided to create the #SPNFamily Crisis Support Network in conjunction with Misha’s charity Random Acts and also with IMAlive and To Write Love On Her Arms. The goal? To help fans who suffer from depression, addiction, and self-harm.

Why are AKF and YANA so important?

Mental health and awareness of mental health conditions are topics that are not often discussed. In fact, depression, anxiety disorders, and other mental health issues are often referred to as “invisible disabilities,” meaning that they are conditions that do not physically manifest. Unfortunately in today’s society, we still thrive on a “see it to believe it” mentality, and often those with mental health conditions are ignored and told that it is “all in their mind.”

In a sentence, this is why AKF and YANA are so important to fandom (and larger society):  by making mental health a topic of conversation, these movements are decreasing the stigma surrounding mental health conditions and making it easier for those affected to say, “I need help.” 

We Need To Know That It’s Okay To Talk About Depression and Other Conditions

For those of us who wake up some days and wish we hadn’t (and that’s not a hyperbole), we know that by admitting we need help, we are often opening ourselves up to ridicule, disdain, and judgment because society largely misunderstands what mental illness means or what it looks like. (Hint: it’s not One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Me, Myself, and Irene.) We are shown through popular culture that anything less than a full-on psychotic break is not truly an illness, and so we shouldn’t talk about it. It’s the elephant in the room, the dirt swept under the rug, the skeleton in the closet—we are raised to believe that we are strong if we don’t talk about it. So last year when celebrity Jared Padalecki opened up about his own struggles with depression? That was a big deal, and it showed many of his fans that they should talk about it.

We Need To Know That What We Do (And Buy) CAN Help Others

Part of the reason that AKF, and now YANA, have been so successful is because the fans are given the opportunities to buy shirts with the actors’ delectablegorgeoushandsomelifedestroying aesthetically pleasing faces on them. So yeah, there are perks to supporting these two causes (such as a possible free trip to Hawaii) but it is important to remember that something as simple as clicking the “checkout” button on PayPal is changing lives. We now live in a world where global culture is possible—thanks to the internet. According to Benedict Anderson (a political science theoretician) in his book Imagined Communities, a nation is described as thus:

In an anthropological spirit, then, I propose the following definition of the nation: it is an imagined political community. It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.

Although Anderson was referring to members of these nations as having a common geographical location, because the internet has changed the way we interact with the world, that may no longer be the case. According to Anderson, we are a nation if we hold a similar purpose. In other words, the SPN Family is a community because we all love Supernatural, so we are able to form online friendships, and communities, with the click of a button.

It is because we have such a strong online community that AKF and YANA are made possible. We commune with each other, we bond with each other, even if we’ve never met physically. We are Anderson’s definition of a nation, so should we not take care of our own in any way we can?

We Are Not Alone, So Always Keep Fighting

As stated previously, there is not always a safe space in the physical world to talk about addiction, depression, and self-injury. Sometimes, we need someone whom we don’t know that well to talk to and to encourage us, because it’s easier. Sometimes, the best help we can get is from someone who doesn’t know us at all.

Allow me to get a little personal for a moment. By twenty, I had struggled with depression for almost a decade, and I drank, smoked, and pill-popped my way through my first two years of university. My third year I studied abroad in France, and I knew that being away from home would either cure me or kill me (again, no hyperbole). Three days after arriving, I was sitting on a park bench and I knew I had hit rock bottom. I just wanted it to end. A man approached the bench and asked if he could sit next to me. He studied my face and after a moment, he said in English as terrible as my French, “I once was you.” He recognized the signs of my distress, and he told me his story. He was a recovered drug addict who had been arrested many times for stealing to support his habit, but really it was his way of dealing with the pain of being abandoned by his parents. He finished his story by telling me that no matter how hopeless it seems, the sun will always return after a rainstorm (that’s my very bad translation of his very kind French words). That conversation changed something in me, and months later, he sent me a letter once again reminding me to keep looking for the sunshine, and that he was proud of me, calling me sa soeur (his sister).

I was lucky that kind French man inspired me to keep fighting, and now I have friends who remind me (sometimes hourly) that I am not alone. Not everyone is so lucky, and that is why AKF and YANA are so important: because the causes they raise funds for allow us to be that person, the one that says, “Hey, you are not alone, so keep fighting. We want you here with us.” YANA gives us that opportunity to volunteer as part of the Crisis Support Network so that we can encourage others to always keep fighting. We are a family, and families take care of each other.

In the words of my French friend: Vous n’êtes pas seul. N’oubliez jamais. 

-The Collectress