Michelle Borth is opening up about her history of self-harm — and how a non-surgical procedure, which made her scars virtually invisible, has helped her move forward.
“I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety probably for as long as I can remember. It started in my really early teens, probably 12-13,” the Hawaii Five-0 actress, 41, tells PEOPLE. “I just became very reclusive and very angry and so I started acting out. I quickly then found escape in drugs and substance abuse because they offered me a momentary relief of overwhelming emotions. And with that came cutting.”
By the time she was 17, Borth’s life had spiraled out of control.
“I found myself in a really bad place and I tried to take my own life,” she says. “Those are the scars that I have been living with my entire life. And those are the scars that I had gone to Dr. Rivkin with.”
Borth first began seeing Dr. Alexander Rivkin, one of the leading experts on non-surgical aesthetic procedures, when she was dealing with acne in her 20s, but it took over a decade until she felt ready to bring up her scars.
By that time, the actress had “come through the storm,” sought treatment and accepted her mental illness as a disease. But because of the scars she carried on her wrist, she was forced to “relive the trauma over and over again” — both at work, in the conversations she had to have before going on camera, and in her professional life.
“It really does have an effect on you,” she says. “You get a look. I always felt that it was a look of someone feeling bad for me, of someone feeling sorry for me. Or sometimes nasty looks of someone judging me.”
Finally, after trying “anything you can think of” to lessen the appearance of the scars, several years ago Borth showed them to Rivkin and asked him if there was anything he could do to help.
After a “long minute of just silence,” Rivkin left the room, and then came back “with all these different sized needles with filler in them and he said, ‘I’m gonna try something. I can’t promise you anything, but I’ll try something.’”
Borth explains that using the injections, Rivkin was able to fill the divots in her wrist, which was necessary because “shadows and light [would] bounce off of them," making them appear darker.
Just minutes later, Borth says there was an “immediate change,” as her scars were instantly flattened and barely visible.
“I was almost in tears,” she says. “I said to him, ‘I can’t believe we’ve never done this before.’ He said, ‘Me Either.’ And then I just blurted out, ‘I know so many people you can help.’”
And in that moment, Roll Up Your Sleeves, a movement dedicated to help those suffering from the physical scars of mental illness, was born.
“Roll Up Your Sleeves is a movement and it’s dedicated to those who are suffering from physical scars from mental illness, from self-harm, from suicide attempts,” Borth says. “I know a lot of people find it difficult to move forward when they have these constant reminders on their body and we want to offer this to you because our past does not equal our future, our struggles do not define us, and most importantly, our scars do not define us.”
Although the fillers used in the procedure are expensive, Rivkin worked with the companies that supplied them, and got the companies to agree to donate them, so that he would be able to offer his services free of charge for those in need. A single treatment typically improves the scars long term.
“We don’t have to ask anybody for money and that’s what I really love,” Borth says. “We’re solely out here to offer a service for people who need it, for people who want to move on, or people in the process of healing and offer them hope, offer them possibilities, offer them confidence again.”
While Borth was Rivkin’s first client for this type of procedure, which is now advertised on his website, these days he’s helping more and more people.
“I’ve seen a bunch of people for this now and they’re very happy that this is something that can be done,” he tells PEOPLE, adding that in addition to being able to fill divots, there are two other types of scars he can help treat.
“Basically what I’m trying to do is make the scars less noticeable. The way that we can do that is if the scars are raised, I can make them more flat with injections of steroids, and if the scars are discolored, if they’re red, I can make them less red with lasers,” he says. “The problem is if the scars are just flat white scars, there’s not that much I can do.”
Although Borth admits that opening up about her story is “difficult,” part of breaking the stigma means not allowing yourself to “stay shamed into silence.”
“What’s made this choice easier is I can’t ask a 13-year-old girl to step into her fear if I can’t do it myself,” she says. “So I’m asking everybody, if you are suffering in silence to show up and answer the call to courage because you are worth it, and you are worth being brave.”
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact the SAMHSA substance abuse helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.