“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in the mental health world.”
Elyse Fox, a filmmaker and mental health advocate, knows firsthand what happens when depression and anxiety go untreated. “When I was 23 and living in L.A., I felt really alone,” says Fox. “I was in a really toxic relationship, and I just wanted out.”
Fox had a suicide attempt on December 22, 2015, after years of struggling silently with depression. It ended up being a pivotal turning point for Fox, and she decided to break her silence and become a mental health advocate.
Although TV shows and movies do increasingly show mental health issues, Fox believes it’s not always the most accurate representation. Fictional characters with depression or anxiety are often extreme, unrelatable, or used as a punchline—and they’re usually white and middle or upper class.
“Growing up, I would have loved to see a girl from Brooklyn or from New York City living her life with depression in the most realistic way,” says Fox. “[There was] no young black girl who looked like me that was talking about these things.”
These missing representations and exaggerated portrayals of mental illness can keep people from getting help earlier, or even from realizing they are dealing with a mental illness. In fact, many people do not seek treatment for anxiety disorders until their twenties and thirties—once anxiety symptoms are more severe and engrained—despite the fact that symptoms of anxiety often appear in childhood.
How to Break the Stigma
Fox believes pushing the narrative about living with a mental health issue is essential to break the stigma. When media outlets are afraid to discuss mental health, it perpetuates the shame people living with depression and anxiety feel. Shame often deters people from seeking treatment.
Fox founded a mental health community called Sad Girls Club after realizing how many girls related to her own story. “I created Sad Girls Club because I felt like girls needed a place to discuss mental health issues without feeling stigmatized or judged,” says Fox.
This mental health community commits to sharing resources, promoting open conversations, and representing a variety of voices. Fox hopes to help people deal with the everyday challenges of living with depression or anxiety—the little things that make a big difference. For example, find out how Fox created a “depression toolkit” to cope with depression.
“I think the media just puts up a lot of stories that will get clicks, but they don’t offer solutions to people who may be experiencing the same things that Anthony [Bourdain] or Kate Spade might have been experiencing,” says Fox. “They just throw up the suicide hotline number and kind of call it a day like their work is done, but I think there can be more added to the narrative.”
Fox also hopes the change the narrative about *who* experiences depression. “I think the conversation is definitely opening up, but I do think that we should also push more representation, because we are affected just as much as white women and white men with depression and suicide in the black community.”
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Major depression. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Mental Health, 2017. (Accessed on November 20, 2018 at https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml.)
McGuire TG, Miranda J. Racial and ethnic disparities in mental health care: evidence and policy implications. Health Aff (Millwood). 2008 Mar-Apr;27(2):393-403.
Racial and ethnic minority populations. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2018. (Accessed on November 20, 2018 at https://www.samhsa.gov/specific-populations/racial-ethnic-minority.)