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Lucy Elliott’s silent struggle

How Shorty helped her battle back
Lucy Elliott

From the minute bright and bubbly Lucy Elliott walks on to the set of our Woman’s Day photo shoot, she is talking a million miles a minute.

The former Shortland Street star’s hands are flailing about as she talks of her past fashion fails, the eclectic bunch of characters living on her street and how she recently lost her cat.

The actress – whose character Dayna Jenkins left Shorty recently – is warm and friendly, with infectious energy. You’d never guess that she also suffers from depression.

“The weird thing about depression is nobody’s case is the same,” says Lucy. “It’s a windy road where you’re up and down, and you settle into a pattern.”

The 22-year-old Aucklander, who describes her case as a “slow burner”, can pinpoint the moment her depression started. It was five years ago. Mercilessly bullied throughout her schooling, Lucy had fallen out with her close-knit group of friends and then heard her applications to study at two different universities had been rejected.

“That was the point where I thought I had nothing – I am nothing, there is nothing I have to offer anybody, I can’t get into university, and I have no job and no money,” she recalls. “That is when the self-doubt started creeping in.”

Lucy’s days became a sad loop of eating and sleeping. She closed herself off from everyone and even stopped drawing, her childhood love. That’s when her parents noticed something was wrong.

It was her father – Kiwi acting legend Peter Elliott, who had also suffered from depression – who took charge and helped Lucy, then 18, focus on her passion for acting. He got her an agent and helped her learn her lines for her audition as troubled teen Dayna on the TV2 soap.

But the high of getting that gig didn’t last long and Lucy’s feelings of self-doubt crept back in. Social-media trolls only made things worse. “When I first started, I had this sick need to know what people thought,” tells Lucy. “I would go on the show’s Facebook page, which is the worst thing I could have possibly done.

It took me a good two years for me to realise that these people don’t know me as a person – they only know my character.”

Lucy didn’t confide in many people about her mental illness. At one point, she tried to tell a friend but was told, “Nobody likes a downer.” That only encouraged her secrecy.

But then, one afternoon, she was playing video games with her co-star and bestie Pua Magasiva, who plays nurse Vinnie Kruse on the drama, and Lucy shared her secret with him.

She remembers, “He just said, ‘You know what? It’s OK,’ and that was all I needed to hear. I needed someone to say I was normal and it’s fine – it was eye-opening for me.

“Once I realised I had this massive support group, the more I opened up about it and the better I felt.”

From that moment on, Lucy realised she couldn’t keep quiet any longer. She created a three-minute video about her struggle with depression and uploaded it to Facebook, the site that once gave her crippling self-doubt.

“I cried while reading the comments because I was blown away by the amount of positive feedback the video got,” says Lucy. “People opened up about their own stories, which isn’t easy, and shared it with friends and family. The video did everything I wanted it to do and more.”

But that wasn’t the only cathartic moment Lucy had on Shorty. Storylines involving Dayna’s bipolar disorder were both confronting and liberating – and then there was the teen-suicide plot with her screen brother Kane, played by KJ Apa.

“I remember crying doing one of those scenes with KJ,” recalls Lucy. “I was getting super-anxious because it was getting too real. I’d felt like this before at my lowest. It’s shocking, but it happens and it was a storyline that needed to be done.”

Watch Lucy Elliott answering our quick fire questions in the video below – story continues after the video

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Now, after her four-year stint on the long-running soap, Lucy is looking forward to a fresh new start away from Ferndale, which includes growing out her hair! She explains, “I’m doing things to reconnect with myself. The thing about Shortland Street is you’re constantly working – 10 scenes a day, five days a week – and you get quite drained.

You forget how to live your life like a normal person once you’re in that routine.” In between auditions, Lucy is basking in the normality of having coffee dates, going on road trips with friends and getting back into her art.

“It’s weird to think about who I was when I started the show and who I am now – I’m a completely different person. “I was anxious and I kept to myself. Now I’m the one screaming down the halls like a banshee and doing crazy things. “I became myself in that place and they were some of the best years of my life.”

Lucy as Dayna, with Shorty co-stars Matt Chamberlain, Tyler Read, Jacqueline Nairn and KJ.

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