Minutes into the new season of MTV’s Following: Bretman Rock the reality show’s star joins his sister at his first-ever therapy session, where he quickly moves from skepticism to sharing.
It’s the beginning of a significant mental health story arc that’s woven throughout season 2, which returns June 27 on MTV YouTube. And as with just about everything the 23-year-old celebrity and gender-bending beauty trailblazer puts into the world, it’s refreshingly unvarnished.
“Not to throw my mother under the bus, but I feel like the older generation didn’t really believe in mental health and so whenever I would tell my mother when I was a kid about something that was bothering me, she thought I was being dramatic when really I might have been going through an anxiety attack,” he says. “So my entire life I believed I was making it up, and that’s why I was scared to see a therapist because I was never allowed to talk about my feelings.”
The idea that some of his fans—he’s amassed more than 45 million of them across platforms—may be experiencing something similar led Rock to introduce the scenario into the show, which is set around his home in Hawaii, where he’s been living since his family immigrated from the Philippines when he was 7.
“I wanted to capture more of the essence that there are some people who are scared to see a therapist, scared to open up about their mental health, and just show that journey for me—as well as overcoming generational trauma.”
Whether he’s on stage at Cannes Lions, where he just announced his new position as creator director at Logitech, or hanging with his family and close-knit group of friends on set, Rock has cultivated a talent for being as approachable as he is fearless. Which puts him in a plum position to help destigmatize mental health by sharing his experience—including his new take on therapy.
“I actually have been seeing one myself ever since the show, and I’m very proud of myself,” he says. “After the show I thought, ‘Therapy was good. I did enough.’ But then I started to see a therapist on my own and it was like ‘Wow, I have to deal with more things.’ I haven’t seen one in a hot minute and I can’t wait to go home to Hawaii and see her.”
Rock also shares more this season about what goes on behind the scenes to deliver his camera-ready influencer persona, Bretman Rock, which he distinguishes from his private self, whom he refers to simply as Bretman.
“Sometimes I’ll post a little snippet of my morning and I’ll read a tweet and it says, ‘Bretman’s life in Hawaii is so perfect.’ Yes it’s nice to live on an island but people don’t realize the other things that go along with that, that’s what I need to show more. Yes, my life is perfect on camera, but oh my gosh…,” he says.
“I talk a lot about work this season. For influencers and creators, our world is kind of… not a lot of people know about it and how tiring it is, I think. I want to explain to people while it might not be physically draining, it is so mentally draining. And this season I talk a lot more about how work really does affect Bretman. I try to separate Bretman and Bretman Rock, and this season captures a little bit more about both of them.”
Island life does keep him grounded, Rock acknowledges. “I grew up in the Philippines and Hawaii, where fame isn’t necessarily what people sought. Back home in Hawaii, no one cares about Bretman Rock. And with a population of four people, everyone who wants to meet me on the island has met me at this point,” he jokes. “But when I’m in LA and Cannes and NY, that’s the only time when I feel fame. So to be honest, I still don’t know what fame is really.”
Part of his process of late is learning to set boundaries. While Rock shares generously with his fans, he concedes there’s one topic he’s keeping off-limits for now.
“I feel like I’m continuously learning about my boundaries with both Bretman and Bretman Rock.” he says. “A safe boundary I’ve learned is [around] my relationship with boys. I share so much as Bretman Rock. I share about my family, my childhood… I’ve always been an open book. But I don’t really open up about my love life, my heart. That I reserve for Bretman.”
He’s also been ratcheting up his meditation practice, something that’s been a part of his life since childhood, including experimenting with drums and healing bowls.
“Believe it or not, I am such a morning person. I wake up every day at 6 o’clock. My grandmother taught me how to meditate really early in life and she worked with the sun a lot. One thing she told me is that when you capture the first rays of light it’s the purest light the sun gives. And so I literally wake up and let the sun in so I can meditate in front of it. Sometimes I get messages from my grandma, sometimes I get messages from the sun. I am a Leo so I feel extra connected with the sun,” he says.
“I’ve also been on this really weird spiritual journey that just came out of nowhere. It’s not like you wake up one day and you start seeing ghosts. It’s not a third eye thing. It’s a process and it’s becoming more in tune with yourself and the world and sometimes you wake up so tired. But something I’ve noticed is that it’s been easier for me to manifest things. I started to journal more, meditate more, and I started trusting myself more. I’m very self-aware.”
That self-awareness has been guiding him to evaluate not only his relationship with himself, but those closest to him.
“It didn’t really hit me until this season, to be honest. It was the first time I reflected on how much time I was spending with my family. If you watch all my older videos, I was always with my niece, my mom, my sister. But after season 1 my life completely shifted. I started doing less influencer-y stuff and more like, dare I say, celebrity stuff. I moved an hour away from my mom and my sister and my career changed so much,” he says.
“I’ve been traveling so much more often and when you’re really busy it’s hard to think about where you are lacking. I feel like this is the most successful I’ve ever been but this is the most detached I’ve ever been, not just with my family but honestly with the world.”
Which brings Rock back to mental health, and the conversation he’s stepping into with his fans.
“This is the only time I’ve ever talked about mental health on any of my platforms because I just didn’t know how to talk about it,” he says. “I never want to sound insensitive. I just hope they know I’m coming from a genuine place.
Hollywood & Mind is a recurring column that lives at the intersection of entertainment and wellbeing, and features interviews with musicians, actors, sports figures and other culture influencers who are elevating conversation and action around mental health.