Sad Girls Club: New Talk on Mental Health
By Elyse Fox
Photographed by Kendall Waldman
Depression and anxiety are nothing new, but the ways in which we deal with them and other mental health issues are changing—finally. Elyse Fox of Sad Girls Club spoke with six people in the mental health space—practitioners, advocates, and others—about where we’re at.
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In 2017, my New Year’s resolution was to help people wake the fuck up and create actionable change in how we view and treat mental health. Throughout my first year of activism, I watched as the feminist movement morphed into a capitalist trend, black Twitter documented each political flop, and together we all just kind of watched our country begin to burn.
It’s finally time to discuss the heavy mental toll of living in the States. Bored with the faux fun lives we’ve promoted online, we’re opening up, getting vulnerable, and kicking off a long-overdue conversation. I connected with six members of the mental health community to share their perspectives on what people need to remember—and where we need to go. —Elyse Fox, founder of Sad Girls Club
Raven Stralow, social worker
“Even though I have depression, my clients never know what I’m going through, and I have to be very careful about what I share with a client. Have you ever had someone launch into a huge story, and you’re like, ‘This isn’t about me!’? You're trying to help me, but you’re failing at talking to me. A therapist can’t do that shit, right? So if I’m considering divulging personal information, I have to ask, ‘Is this in service of the client or myself?’ I have a client who has severe anxiety disorder and personality disorder, and she saw me as someone who has it ‘together’ in a lot of ways. That made it hard for us to communicate. So I told her, ‘When you say you can’t make it out of bed and go to class, I want you to know that I know how fucking painful that is. I was there two weeks ago.’”
“I have anxiety, and it’s linked with other issues: At the peak of my anxiety, my body dysmorphia and eating disorder started kicking, because when I’m super anxious, I'm just not able to eat or function at all. The issues are slowly deteriorating, which is good. I spoke with a therapist for a while and really focused on meditation and using art to get through my emotions. I don’t like to talk about how I feel a lot of the time, and with music and drawing, I’m able to think through my thoughts more easily. My therapist basically told me that I make things bigger in my head than they actually are, and through writing things down or songwriting, I can get things out of my head. Looking at them physically makes it easier to understand them.”
Shira Burstein, social worker
“If you want to help a friend who’s struggling, ask them what their goals are and what types of changes they’d like to see in their lives. Try not to project your own desires and opinions. If you’re unsure how to begin the conversation, have what I call an ‘outer monologue,’ speaking your thoughts aloud: ‘I want to help, but I’m unsure of exactly how to do it.’ If they don’t want to discuss things directly, support them with your presence—ask them out to lunch, check in with them, let them know that they matter, treat them like a normal human, and tell them how much you care.”
Anne Vick, dance movement therapist
“Historically, there’s a broad societal impulse along the lines of, ‘Can we just fix this and move on?’ We have a really hard time as a society tolerating a middle ground or an ongoing process. And I think that’s why dance movement therapy [adta.org] has been fighting for its platform within the mental health field. It offers such a different approach, using movement to help people integrate the body, mind, and spirit. There’s evidence that our work is really useful, and there’s a lot of excitement and a lot of traction moving forward internally. But right now, it’s still a fight.”
Brittany Gardner, former residential counselor for young adults
“Counselors need to be supported, and they often aren’t. When I started my job at a treatment center, where I worked with eight young adults, I felt very supported and equipped to handle my clients. Our job was to coach them on how to deal with everyday challenges without wanting to hurt themselves or give up. After one year, management changed and we experienced a lot of disorganization and manipulation. It began affecting my mental health, and my patients began to notice my decline and unhappiness. I had my first really bad anxiety attack, which landed me in the hospital overnight. And we were paid less than most fast food workers. In the end, I had to leave.”
Mama Isis, middle school teacher
“As a black educator and a mother, I am faced with the responsibility of habitually displaying a positive version of myself. I know my young learners, both in school and at home, are directly mimicking me. I have to be deliberate and show a level of confidence in my daily lessons, because parents who send their child to school have no room for a teacher to be anything less than secure.
After I gave birth, I had some time to slow down and rest while my body was healing. So I spent a lot of time reflecting on what I wanted my new life as a mother to be. I realized the importance of using idle time to reflect, instead of allowing it to drag me further into distressing thoughts. Now, at the end of each workday, I reflect on what happened, how I handled it, and how I can grow from the experience.”
ELYSE FOX is a Brooklyn-based activist and artist.
KENDALL WALDMAN is a documentarian and collector of spaces. She finds interest and employ in film and photography.