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Sad Girls Club Is Providing Free Therapy To Black Women & Femmes

Photo: Courtesy of Sad Girls Club.
Elyse Fox says she started Sad Girls Club by accident. In 2016, the self-proclaimed filmmaker by trade released a documentary titled Conversations With Friends (& Acquaintances), which chronicled what she calls her worst year of living with depression. “It was really bright and colorful,” she tells Unbothered. “It showed me traveling, shooting amazing artists, and being in spaces where I seemed happy.” 
But what many didn’t realize as those moments were being filmed is that she was also grappling with suicidal ideation and anxiety attacks. The way that juxtaposition was captured on film resonated with people—especially Black women.
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“I received a wave of positive feedback from girls all around the world, from ages 9 to 40, who saw themselves in my story,” she shares.” These were women and girls who had long wanted to speak up about the mental health challenges they were facing, but didn’t have safe spaces in which they could do so. And that’s how Sad Girls Club was born. “I was like, I can either let this rock and let it fade out or I can create something for us,” she continues. “I created an Instagram page to tell our stories, and the community grew in such an authentic way.”
Today, the Sad Girls Club Instagram page is home to 256K followers and counting, and is one of the most popular wellness platforms for women, girls, and femmes of color. Founded in 2017, Sad Girls Club has played a pivotal role in providing safe spaces and access to mental health resources to its audience, which have been especially necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a study done by researchers at San Diego State University and Florida State University, moderate or serious mental distress among American adults tripled during the pandemic. This means that there were more people seeking mental health support, but that search has always been a challenging one for Black folx. We make up 13.4% of America’s population, but the majority of therapists in the country are white. 
It’s no secret amongst our community that having a therapist who looks like you can often make or break a therapeutic relationship. Fox, who just launched Remedy, Sad Girls Club’s free 1:1 talk therapy program, knows this well. 
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“Right before I released my film [in 2016], I actually had a really bad experience with suicide attempts and I was put away in an institution,” Fox shares. “I was receiving ‘therapy’ but it was like one of the worst experiences of my life. I don't think my therapist, [who was a white man], even looked me in the eyes. He was writing the entire time, and it turned me off in such a major way that I didn't go back to therapy, honestly, until I had my son four years later.”
Through Remedy, Sad Girls Club is gifting therapy to members of their community who are unable to afford it but are in need of mental health support. They are also providing a means for their community to connect with mental health professionals who look like them. Here, Fox tells us about how Sad Girls Club is creating access for Black folx in the wellness space, and talks about how other platforms can do the same.

It's so important for you to have [a therapist who can] understand your language and perspective. You don't want to have to code switch in a room where you're supposed to be your true, authentic self.

Elyse Fox
Unbothered: Sad Girls Club is such a necessary platform for Black women and femmes. We're notably impacted by mental health issues, but we're not always represented in the conversations.
Elyse Fox: It's interesting because in every conversation we're the lowest on the totem pole, and that doesn't change with mental health. There's also a stigma around not having this invisible strength that Black women are supposed to have. I feel like, for a long time, we all were living with these masks like, "This is who I am. I have to be this way." I didn't grow up having that conversation [with my family]. I didn't have that representation in my life to even understand what mental health was. I didn't know what depression was or what anxiety even meant. Not having the language is a barrier for Black women. When you don't have the language, it's hard to even just communicate your feelings, which is why we named our platform Sad Girls Club. There's so many feelings that are involved in mental health, but people resonate with the word "sad," so that's something that brings people in. 
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It's the lack of representation for sure. When you do see mental health represented, the people representing it don't look like us. When they do, they’re representing the most extreme version of mental health — like Halle Berry in Gothika. It's so extreme where it's like, "Well, I'm not sitting in the corner in a dark room with a silhouette, looking out a window, so that's not me." There are so many different levels of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and every mental health issue. We need representatives to be open and honest to represent each part physically and verbally and in writing that will help us all feel a bit more understood.
In addition to finding communities in which we feel safe talking about these experiences, finding mental health professionals who understand our experiences and with whom we feel safe speaking to is also a challenge for us. How are you addressing this with your latest initiative Remedy?
EF: It's so important for you to have [a therapist who can] understand your language and perspective. You don't want to have to code switch in a room where you're supposed to be your true, authentic self. Obviously you can choose [whatever therapist] you want, but I do feel like it's a game changer for me.
With Remedy, we are granting a minimum of 12 grantees in 2023 with one year of therapy, and that's two sessions per month. We also have created a database of therapists in every single state. They're a part of the BIPOC community, and some are a part of the LGBTQ+ community. We're also looking at providing services for people who are hard of hearing or deaf and seeing how we can make this as seamless an experience as possible. It's nice to have money to go to therapy, but finding the right therapist is such a tricky, tricky thing.
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That database is a game changer. I ended up finding my first therapist through the Therapy for Black Girls database in 2018, and I remember saying to myself, If we had more databases like this, it'd be so much easier for us to find the sort of support that we need. 
EF: Thank you. It's been a huge dream of mine since I started Sad Girls Club in 2017.
How will Remedy serve the community beyond this initiative? Is the program ongoing?
EF: Absolutely. Whenever I establish programming, I want it to be ongoing. Scholarships will be awarded on a quarterly basis, depending on how much we have in the fund and how much we can allocate. That one year of therapy is something that I want to keep consistent. This is so pivotal to seeing how much you change, grow, and learn it within a year or so [of therapy].
Amazing. And applications are available on the Sad Girls Club website?
EF: Absolutely. We have the applications on our website and you can go to our Instagram bio. You can apply more than once if you want. If you've already done Remedy and want to apply for more vouchers in the end, you can also apply for additional vouchers. 
Awesome. Let’s pivot a bit and talk about the state of the wellness industry as a whole. We know capitalism has made gaining access to the wellness sources our community needs very tricky. In addition to Remedy, how is Sad Girls Club divesting from capitalism and reclaiming wellness as a form of personal fulfilment, while helping people to reclaim their agency and access to the things they need?
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EF: With SGC, providing community is a huge part of how we heal, as well as giving people the agency to create their own communities after they experience what SGC is doing. Our events aren't super glamorous, and while they are Instagrammable in some ways, they’re mainly people with their phones down sharing their experiences and their next steps in their mental health journey. 
I think we've lost a lot of that throughout the pandemic, and capitalism has seen that and [brands have] been trying [to create and sell] more things for us to fill in those holes. But we want people to meet together. We want people to understand each other in a way that's vulnerable, freeing and open, and storytelling is the oldest form of healing. We lose that on these [digital] platforms and we want to bring that back in a way that is very authentic. So we want to help people understand that you don't necessarily need Sad Girls Club to facilitate these conversations. You can have them in your own home. You can have them in your group messages with your friends. You can have personal fulfilment by doing whatever you want to do that makes you feel like your childhood self. We lean into that childhood self feeling all the time because when we were young, we lived for afterschool and we would go outside and play until we had to come in. On the weekends, we would go outside and play and not worry about chores or anything else. We want to help guide you, but you have the power, you have the autonomy to choose. And purchasing things is nice, but it's not mandatory.
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I love this idea of speaking to our childhood selves. It fits into the resurgence of the conversation around re-parenting ourselves, and that sounds like what you are creating space for people to do.
EF: Absolutely. There's a lot of unlearning that we probably have to do to feel like our full selves as adults and young adults, and it's okay to take that first step. It's very scary. It could be isolating, but you'll see the progress as you go and that progress can’t be bought at any store. 
What do you think other brands can be doing better in order to make mental health resources safer, more inclusive, and more accessible? 
EF: Whenever [I get approached by a brand], it's typically around Mental Health Awareness Month or some mental holiday. And I push back on it and I say, "If you really are about mental health, and you want to support the mental health of your consumers and also our community, this can't just be a one off." We only work with brands who want to do long term partnerships or have a long term effect within the mental health space. And I think that other brands can look at themselves and see how they may be impacting the mental health space negatively and where they can show up in a way that's sensitive to their brand and to their consumer.
If you are thinking about suicide, please call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or Call BlackLine at 1-800-604-5841.
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