Ladies First highlights women and girls who are making the world better for the rest of us.

Elyse Fox opens her short film with a very personal confession: “Depression is something I’ve felt I’ve always had, but I’ve never been able to put these feelings into words.”

The documentary, Conversations With Friends, is a capsule glimpse into a year in Fox’s life. There are discussions about the drive to make art, the importance of friendships, and (since the film was made in 2016) talk about the November election. There’s also a major realization: that the periods of sadness, anxiety, and self-doubt that Fox often experiences don’t fall under the category of “having a bad day” — they’re signs of depression. And once she named it, Fox became determined to help other women dealing with their own mental health issues.

“A life with depression is my ‘norm,’” explains Fox. “I would describe my time with it as a journey of confusion and ups and downs. Thankfully, I think I’ve somewhat locked down what my ‘depression cycle’ looks like. I don’t really focus on the negative stigma, but it was something that made it difficult for me to speak out about. I’ve learned to live openly and focus on how to love every part of myself.”

The documentary had an unintended effect: Young women began reaching out to Elyse to share their own stories about depression and to ask her for advice about their own mental health. The response was so profound that Fox was driven to create Sad Girls Club, a social media-based organization that hosts IRL meetups in New York City.

Fox sees SGC as a resource and a community to support young women with mental health issues and to fill some of the gaps she saw in the kinds of services that were being offered. “I remember when I began searching for help it was extremely difficult to find resources that were quality service, [that] worked with my insurance/fit my budget, [and] were near my home. Wealthier areas have better resources within reach of their neighborhoods,” Fox says. “It’s just not as easy and can make one feel defeated.”

Instagram became a natural platform for the club — it’s accessible and the community Fox was looking to reach was already there, they just had to be brought together. “I think many people use social media to express their most personal moments and thoughts; for many their profiles work as journal. If mental health is a part of someone’s day, it’s only natural to express that in their virtual diary,” she explains.

With even the most basic healthcare resources currently under threat by the Trump administration’s determination to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, accessibility is a priority for Fox, who says that it’s time to get creative and advocate for our own mental wellness.

“I would suggest forming your own community similar to Sad Girls Club in your neighborhood,” she says. “Reach out to local therapists and health care providers in your city and see if they’d be willing to donate time to your community monthly. A few sites I recommend are, and NAMI [the National Alliance on Mental Illness]. Inscape Meditation is my sanctuary in the city.”

Above all, says Fox, we have to stop viewing self-care as a selfish act. Why? Because it so totally isn’t one: “It’s extremely important for everyone to maintain a self-care routine. We experience so many different emotions, personalities, and stress throughout our day. It’s crucial to set aside time to unwind and focus on YOU. Self-care can help you focus, reset, and clear your mind. I always defer to the airplane oxygen mask example: You’re instructed to put on your oxygen mask first and then assist someone else. You have to help yourself before you take on the world, girl!”

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(Photos via Sad Girls Club)