How Millennial Women and Femmes Are Reinventing the Conversation on Mental Health
Sometimes, your best ideas are born in the murky haze of the darkest days. #TalkingAboutIt — an online community dedicated to speaking as openly about mental health as we do physical health — is no exception. In the winter of 2015, my anxiety morphed from an ever-present gnat to a predatory wasp, circling around me, threatening to strike at any moment. Every action felt like an invitation for a sting, including getting out of bed.
So one day, I just didn’t.
I lay underneath my blankets, staring mindlessly at the wall, occasionally scrolling through Twitter in an attempt to make myself feel anything at all. And then, I saw it: a friend’s tweet joking lightheartedly about laying on the couch all day with a head cold. Why was I being quiet about my reason for not getting up?
At that moment, it suddenly occurred to me that being quiet about my mental health online was just contributing to the heavy stigma surrounding mental health issues while simultaneously perpetuating the harmful illusion to my followers that life is always perfect and fun. As a privileged person whose family and work life would allow me to be vulnerable, I made a promise to myself from then on: to talk about my mental health, the good days and the bad.
Slowly, more and more people joined me in #TalkingAboutIt. Some tweeted about PTSD; others tweeted about grief; still others made anonymous accounts to take that first step to emotional vulnerability. Before I knew it, #TalkingAboutIt had grown far larger than just me. It had become a community — a haven on the internet where people can go to feel a little less alone.
In honor of World Mental Health Day, we’re featuring millennial women and femmes who are leveraging online connectivity and allowing themselves to be vulnerable in order to build support communities around mental health through self-care apps, hashtags, online chats, and more.
Keah Brown, 26
Mental health issues often go hand-in-hand with other stigmatized conditions and communities, and physical disability is no exception. Western New Yorker, writer, and journalist Keah Brown started #DisabledandCute after she decided that the phrase was something she “finally believed to be true” about herself.
“I was actually cute — I am actually cute — in my disabled body,” Keah told Brit + Co. “There’s something to be said about the ways in which disabled bodies are treated and viewed. [#DisabledandCute] gives us permission to love ourselves and celebrate ourselves. We aren’t here to be pitied. We are here to lead full, fun, and happy lives.”
Keah said that speaking out about her own mental health issues was what led her to start the hashtag and to become truly mentally healthy.
“[T]he more we talk about how mental health and mental illness affect our lives and the lives of people we love, the more the stigma will shed and hopefully that’ll help us create access to the help we need,” she said.
Amber Discko, 27
Following what they accurately describe as a “particularly vitriolic” election last November, Femsplain founder Amber Discko was at the lowest point of their mental health ever. After working tirelessly on Hillary Clinton’s digital team, the candidate’s loss knocked the wind out of them.
“I wasn’t taking care of myself, and couldn’t seem to remember basic self-care tasks,” Discko who identifies as non-binary and femme and prefers she/them pronouns, told Brit + Co. “I relied on a survey I created for myself to help me remember simple tasks and check-in with myself throughout the day to stay accountable.”
That’s what inspired Discko to start the extremely successful Kickstarter for the Aloe App, which raised over $50,000 —$10,000 more than their goal. The app gives “gentle self-care reminders from yourself” by allowing you to check in and make sure you’re taking care of your body and mind. The app also includes a community and a support network that allows you to send and receive encouragement and positivity via fun little “virtual gardens.” It even reminds you to take breaks from the internet.
“I live with anxiety and depression, and sometimes I believe that no person could ever understand or feel what I do,” Discko said. “[I]n reality, there are millions of people struggling and living with mental illness like me … [I]t can make such a positive difference to see or hear someone share what they’re going through.”
Claire Biggs, 27
Claire Biggs is the digital strategy muscle behind the beloved non-profit movement To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA). TWLOHA was founded by If You Feel Too Much author Jamie Tworkowski in an effort to raise awareness and find help for those struggling with depression, self-injury, suicide, and addiction. Behind the scenes is Biggs, who spent two years working as TWLOHA’s editor before becoming the organization’s communications guru, creating stigma-busting conversations from sexual assault survivors, young men with eating disorders, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and more.
“It meant doing a lot of listening,” Biggs told Brit + Co about her time as the organization’s editor. “…It was all about finding people who are telling stories that we were missing before and sharing those with our readers.”
In between campaigns for her female-led creative agencyLore de Force, Biggs comes up with new ways to grow TWLOHA’s community online. For example, she’s currently experimenting with Instagram stories to tell stories that start conversations and “challenge stigma in new and interesting ways.”
Biggs, who stumbled upon TWLOHA’s website while researching her own mental health issues, immediately felt impassioned to make this her life’s work upon her discovery. Now, she makes it a practice to actively speak about her bipolar disorder, and to start conversations about privilege and mental health.
“Anytime someone speaks out about their experience living with a mental health issue, it gives someone else permission to do the same,” she said. “More importantly, however, it gives someone else a touchpoint. It gives them something to refer to in their darkest moments of shame and doubt.”
Do you find support online? Tell us where @BritandCo!