Local 10's Clay Ferraro wants to break stigma of mental illness

By Janine Stanwood - Anchor/Reporter

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. - Local 10 viewers see sports anchor Clay Ferraro deftly covering the big stories in the Miami sports world.

He's funny and smart.

If you follow Clay on social media, you've probably seen photos of his beautiful wife and three daughters.

But as it turns out, we don't know everything about the struggles Clay has faced in his life. 

He wants to share his story.

CHILDHOOD DIAGNOSIS

"When I was a kid, I was known as Mr. Mint because every baseball I collected had to be in perfect condition," Clay recalled.

Growing up in Virginia, Clay liked to collect baseball cards, and he liked for them to be pristine.

"Every time I touched a baseball card, I had to make sure my hands were 100 percent clean. Well, that started with just washing the hands once, but then it became two times. Then it became four times," Clay said.

Clay Ferraro, pictured here with his father, was diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder when he was young.

It got to the point where Clay had to wash his hands 16 times before he felt comfortable touching a baseball card. His hands would crack and bleed. 

With worried and supportive parents, Clay saw a doctor and was diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder.

"I was diagnosed when I was really young. It manifests itself the most with obsessive compulsive disorder, also known as OCD," he said. 

Clay sometimes took medication and underwent therapy.

He said he still struggled in school but pushed through, did well in college and eventually found success in the TV business.

TURNING POINT

Clay became a well-known sports and news anchor in Fort Myers. That's where he met his now-wife, Kristen.

He hoped his illness was something he could manage.

"I told her that I was over this because I felt as though I was," Clay said. 

But Clay wasn't "over it," and said he sometimes struggled during his drive home from work at night. 

"For whatever reason, it manifested itself in a terrible fear when I drove," he said. 

One afternoon, things took a turn on a drive to church.

Clay Ferraro embraces his wife on their wedding day. They met when he was working in Fort Myers.

"I just froze. I couldn't move," Clay remembered. "I put the car in park. (Kristen's) sitting in the passenger seat, and I just started crying. I literally could not move."

The next day, Clay saw his doctor and called Kristen at her job at a local school. He told her he needed to go to a hospital. 

"I remember getting home and he was beside himself," Kristen said. "And he's like, 'I don't know what to do. We need to get in the car. I need you to drive. I can't live one more day like this.'"

Clay was checked into an institution for three days and monitored around the clock. He said it wasn't easy and was sometimes scary.

But it's what sparked him to realize that focusing on his mental health was not something he could do alone.

"He didn't know what that meant for his life. He didn't know what it meant for our life. But he knew it was so bad that we had to go to this hospital and get checked in," Kristen said. 

"Getting help is the ultimate sign of strength," Clay said. 

HELPING OTHERS

Now, several years later, with the help of medication, therapy and his family, Clay said his illness is part of his life.

"There's a stigma in society that I'm trying to get rid of," Clay said. "Sometimes it's the people who have everything to live for. It's the people who seem to have everything together who are really struggling the most." 

Clay said he sometimes had thoughts of suicide but believes that was his illness talking. 

"Even if you are sitting there, thinking that nobody loves you and nobody can help you, there are a bunch of people who want you to get better," he insists. "This is my fight. I will fight this every day."

If you are in need of help, please reach out to: 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness: www.nami.org.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
 

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