Eli Paulk On Overcoming Depression, And Helping Others Do The Same

Eli Paulk sat alone outside of Purdue University Fort Wayne’s International Ballroom. A handful of students filtered in and out of the banner event September’s Suicide Prevention Week: a resource fair with over a dozen different community organizations and groups hoping to engage students on the topic of mental health. Dressed in black shorts and a purple Louisiana State University hoodie, Paulk appeared to be unaware or uninterested in the event going on in front of him. A surprising observation to me because, as he would later share, although he has made it his goal to help others struggling with depression, Eli still battles with it himself.

“There was honestly, two years straight where every day, it just seemed like there was a cloud over me,” Paulk said, fighting back tears. “I couldn’t enjoy anything.”

Paulk did not share exactly what circumstances affected his life during these two years other than a short-lived break up with his girlfriend. But he said he credits her, as well the music of J-Cole and Mac Miller for helping him work through that time in his life. This is why he says Miller’s death last September affected him so deeply.

Paulk said although he didn’t meet him, talk to him, or even consider him his favorite rapper, Miller and his music were a big part of his life growing up. When Miller’s album, “Swimming,” released last September, he said he listened to the song “Wings” on repeat while crying for a half an hour.

“He was very transparent,” Paulk said, as he teared up. “Everybody knew his struggles. He didn’t hide from anything. And that’s why people connected so easy.”

And by sharing his own personal challenges on YouTube, Eli is trying to do the same.

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Eli Paulk, 22-year old YouTuber and Purdue Fort Wayne student, hopes his videos can help viewers struggling with depression.

Last July, Paulk announced a change in the direction of the content on his YouTube channel, “Eli Is Broke.” Once a mix of personal adventures, hip hop and rap album reviews, and a short film about self doubt, Paulk started to post videos focused on success and happiness. One of his longest uploads, a conversation about depression in millennials, runs 17-minutes long.

Paulk said he wanted to stop making clickbait and focus on producing more substantive content that could make a difference in people’s lives.

“I don’t wanna try to fix anybody,” Paulk said. “But I wanna be there in case anybody needs affirmation.”

Paulk said he has always had the urge to help people. Born and raised in Fort Wayne, one of his clearest memories as a kid was not being able to understand why there are homeless people in the city. He took notice of the juxtaposition of homeless people asking for money along Coliseum Boulevard, while high-end car dealerships existed nearby. This led him to pursue a career in social services, before becoming an English major and focusing on communication after encouragement from his professor, Dr. Kate White.

However, his mission of reaching out to and helping others is proving harder than he thought.

During the first week of the fall semester, Paulk passed out over 1,500 business cards on campus to promote his channel. Since then, he has not seen any increase in views or heard from a single person who may have found his card — until I contacted him.

Paulk took a four-month break from making videos to focus on himself.

Josué Loya, Paulk’s longtime neighbor and friend, said this is something Paulk doesn’t often do. Loya says Paulk is always doing what he can to help others.

“He’s a very caring person,” Loya said. Anytime he has needed a ride, run out of gas, or just needed help cleaning his yard, Paulk has always been there to help.

Paulk’s desire to reach out to those struggling with their own mental health is not without need.

Judy Tillapaugh, Coordinator of Fitness and Wellness at Purdue Fort Wayne, said suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students. Tillapaugh said one of the best things students could do for their own mental health is to reach out to others.

“You’re talking, you’re sharing, you’re laughing, you’re connecting,” Tillapaugh said. “That can make a difference in helping a person cope through something that they might be facing.”

At a time when it is easier for us to be closed off and pulled into our own little words through smartphones and social media, Paulk said he hopes his content can break through and make it easier for those of his own generation to connect and reach out to others. He aims to meet people where they are, rather than wait for them to come forward.

Paulk hopes to find the right balance between positivity and entertainment. He knows kids won’t want to watch videos of him solely lecturing about mental health. He wants it to be easier for audiences to digest, so he can make a meaningful connections and accomplish what he set out to do in the beginning.

“That’s the goal,” Paulk said. “Give people hope.”

Staying Secure Online

Before she stopped going out alone, before she changed her phone number and before she began looking over her shoulder everywhere she went, Jessica Hostetler used Facebook like everyone else.

She thought it was just spam when the first account appeared. It used one of her photos and began sending her friends friend requests on Facebook. She reported it. It was removed. She moved on.

But then the phone calls started. They came from a blocked number and were filled with heavy breathing on the other end. She began to worry.

“I thought it was stupid a prank at first, but then it kept happening,” Hostetler said. “For the longest time, just hearing the phone ring made me nervous.”

Then, just as more fake accounts began appearing, she found herself locked out of her Facebook profile. This was when she realized she had been hacked. Hostetler has since turned to Facebook and law enforcement in the hopes of finding a way to end the harassment.

Today, cases like Hostetler’s are common. According to the 2017 Internet Crime Reportcompiled by the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, over 60,000 complaints about personal data hacks and stalkings were received throughout the year.

In order to stay safe online, here are some helpful ways in which you can protect your accounts, your privacy and yourself while living in this digital age.

Two-Factor Authentication

Mandi Witkovsky, manager of security and identity at Purdue University Fort Wayne’s Information Technology Services, said a popular way to secure accounts today is by using two-factor authentication.

Once activated, users’ accounts will require an additional step before they can successfully log on. Typically, this confirmation step is in the form of a four-digit pin code, sent via email or text message, which users will have to enter before being granted access.

“It is a little bit of a pain, especially if you get a new phone, but it’s the cost of being safer,” Witkovsky said.

Spotting Phishing Emails

One way hackers will try to access students’ accounts is through phishing attacks. These are emails sent to people under a variety of false pretenses to trick them into giving up passwords, credit card numbers and other important personal information.

Dennis Ratliff, a staff member at Purdue Fort Wayne Information Technology Services, said students are often targeted by hackers trying to access their bursar accounts to steal financial information and redirect refunds.

According to the Better Business Bureau, people ages 18-24 are most likely to be scammed online, with 34 percent of those targeted losing money to scammers and hackers.

In August, Purdue Fort Wayne students were sent a phishing email from nonexistent employee “Tracy McDonald,” who worked at the incorrectly named “IT Department.” The somewhat clever email told students about a fake previous phishing email and urged them to change their passwords by clicking a link which brought them to a replica My.PFW.edu login page, designed to capture their credentials when students attempted to login.

This phishing email was sent to Purdue University Fort Wayne students in early August.

“It’s not so much with phishing that people are dumb,” Witkovsky said. “It’s about getting so many dang emails in a day, and being in a hurry.”

According to Witkovsky, you can easily spot most phishing emails by looking for these qualities:

  • Many grammar and spelling mistakes.
  • A generic greeting, such as: “Dear student.”
  • A demand for immediate action, like urgent notice of your account being deleted.
  • Suspicious links or URLs.

Privacy Settings

“While I love the concept of social media, I hate it because it promotes oversharing,” Witkovsky said.

Witkovsky recommends people check that their privacy settings on Facebook and other social media are set to “friends only.” Additionally, while it might be fun to share information about yourself, your family or your pets on social media, it’s important to make sure that the information you’re sharing doesn’t correspond to your security questions. Making this information publicly accessible can make it easier for hackers to guess the answers to your security questions and gain access your account.

Know Your Vulnerabilities

Even though you may have taken precautions when online, your data could still have been exposed in a third party leak or hack, similar to the leak at the credit agency Equifax, which exposed the data of 14.5 million customers.

To check if your data may have been leaked or stolen, Witkovsky recommends HaveIBeenPwned.com. There, users can enter their email addresses and search the internet for any associated usernames and passwords that may have been leaked.

But whether or not you have enabled two-factor authentication or limited all of your privacy settings in order to keep your data and information safe, Witkovsky urges caution at all times online.

“The internet is like an amusement park. We want it to be fun and have a good time,” Witkovsky said. “But not all the rides are safe and it’s hard to tell what rides are safe; so you have to treat it like none of the rides are safe.”