“I was really excited,” Elyse Fox, the founder of Sad Girls Club, shared via Zoom. “We’ve worked with The Class [a mindful movement brand] for the first telethon that we hosted in December. With that partnership, they did share that they wanted to continue working with Sad Girls Club and I love when a brand sticks to their word. I was really excited to see that we are actually growing together and our communities have grown together as well.”
As the founder of New York-based organization Sad Girls Club, Elyse Fox is creating a new conversation around mental health for millennials and Gen Z. Founded in 2017, Fox founded the non profit with the intention of creating a community for women of color who are battling mental illnesses.
Ahead, check out the conversation between Fox and ESSENCE Girls United about healing for Black girls, the origin of Sad Girls Club and what she loves most about the work that The Class and Alicia Keys are doing around mental health. Keep scrolling to check out the conversation.
What do you love the most about the work that the class and Alicia Keys are doing around mental health, meditation and mindfulness?
FOX: I think it’s nice to have the space for restoration. I feel like The Class was already a unique space, but when you bring in the conversation specifically around mental health, it just helps to remove the stigma and it helps normalize and activate the conversation outside of the physical space. I love that they’re taking space specifically throughout Mental Health Awareness Month and shining a light on something that is still heavily stigmatized in the Black community and doing it in such a positive way.
Why is Mental Health Awareness Month so important to you and why is it so imperative that, as Black women, we recognize it?
FOX: This is the time for it. People are really paying attention to our mission and what our goals are within mental health. It’s super important to me to just create spaces throughout the entire year, but specifically during Mental Health Awareness Month because I know this is when a lot of brands begin to care more and put things out there into the world. I always want to make sure there’s a thread of continuation with the programming and the partnerships that we do carry from May throughout the next year, the following year, the year after, just so everyone knows that this is a space that exists outside of these 31 days.
What inspired the foundation of Sad Girls Club and what made you want to name it how you did?
FOX: The foundation behind Sad Girls Club came about after I released a film that documented my worst year of depression after getting out of a really long, abusive relationship. I found that I didn’t have an immediate support system where I didn’t have the comfort level to speak about my mental health. I was like, ‘I can either complain about this or create something.’. So I decided to create something and I chose the name Sad Girls Club. I definitely didn’t make it up. It was something that already existed in the Tumblr universe, but there wasn’t an actionable item when I saw the phrase ‘Sad Girls Club.’ I wanted to create things or space for resources and community, and growth within the mental health world.
I chose Sad Girls Club because people who don’t have the language to say ‘I’m depressed or anxious,’ know that they’re sad. Young children may not say, ‘I might have bipolar disorder.”‘ They might just say, ‘I’m sad,’ or, ‘I’m feeling off,’ or, ‘I’m a little jittery.’.
‘Sad’ is just a word that everyone can relate to and it’s a part of many people’s language. I wanted to really attract a younger audience with Sad Girls Club. I wanted it to be inviting and fun.
How should Black women start talking to each other about disrupting the stigma of mental health?
FOX: I always say that it doesn’t have to be this heavy sit-down talk in a living room that’s really daunting. It should be a part of your everyday conversation and check-ins. The same way you say, ‘Good morning,’ when you wake up and see your roommates, your sister, or your mother, you can just say, ‘How you feel mentally? We good? Anything going on?’
Just start incorporating it little by little into normal conversations that way it doesn’t seem like people are being punished.
I started doing it. I got a Caribbean mom and she was never speaking about mental health, but now if I feel like her energy is a bit off, I’ll check in with her and I do it in a gentle way. Communicate in a way that is effective for that person. So I’ll verbally ask her, ‘Is everything cool? Is there anything I can help you with?’
That person will also know that maybe if they don’t want to talk in that moment, they can come back to you and you’re somebody that they can possibly trust with this information or as a support system.
How do you define mental health, and what’s the importance of practicing it daily?
FOX: It should be embedded into everything that you do. It shouldn’t be something that is like a la carte to the rest of your life. It has to be a part of your day-to-day, your week. In the same way you obviously care about your physical health, you have to care about your mental health. That goes hand in hand. It’s really being intentional with what I put into my body, not overloading my plate, knowing when to set boundaries and how to keep those boundaries, and that’s typically easier said than done.
For my mental health and how I know if I’m not keeping up with it, it’s just doing some self-reflection. If you take things bit by bit, self-reflect and work it into your everyday life, it doesn’t seem like a chore or an added thing to do on self-care Sunday. It’s a part of your natural being.
What are some key components of healing and being real with yourself about your healing process?
FOX: One key point is to definitely set goals, but don’t set hard deadlines. [Like,] I want to be here by this date because the world will turn that around for you. Have goals and trajectories, but don’t set strict dates because you don’t want to set unnecessary boundaries for your growth and healing and also understanding that you might need a break from the digital space. I know people are like, ‘No, I have to be online. I have to be on email.’ There are ways you can still be attached but detached at the same time where you’re not taking in information that is not conducive to your healing.
Digital detoxes would have been my go-to where I only use social media for certain hours of the day for certain time spans throughout the day and blocking it out on Sundays. Setting barriers and boundaries where you see fit and also writing down when things make you feel uncomfortable. This isn’t the end all be all. Instagram is not the end all be all. Likes aren’t the end all be all.
What key pieces of advice would you give ESSENCE Girls United about the importance of checking in with themselves?
FOX: Build out your tribe as soon as you can. Once you’re in a space where your depression might be heightened or your anxiety heightened, it’s hard to think about who cares about you and who loves you in those spaces. Starting the conversation early and being preventative is so important. Knowing what your boundaries are entering new spaces, whether it’s school, work, or you have to tell a teacher, ‘I can get my work done and work from home. I understand we want to meet in class three times a week, but I can be just as effective.’ Really communicate what your needs are.
You might not always get them. You probably won’t get a hundred percent of them, but putting it out there into the world and communicating what you need is so important because we always think people can read our minds. They can’t. You want to make sure that you’re doing everything you can to set the tone for the new chapter in your life. Keep track of your progress and celebrate when you accomplish something.