Now more than ever Black women are seeking resources to address varying mental health concerns and Elyse Fox, the founder of Sad Girl’s Club, is expanding the reach of the organization with Soul Sessions and The Club to further meet the needs of women of color and the millennial and Gen Z populations. The Black community has wrestled with beliefs related to stigma, help-seeking, and psychological and emotional openness which has impacted their coping behaviors and has limited the quality of care they receive to treat mental health concerns. There are a variety of structural and societal challenges that have also impacted Blacks in accessing medical care and treatment. Coincidentally, not only do factors such as exposure to racism, bias, and income and health disparities contribute to Blacks not receiving or seeking mental health care, they also contribute to making them especially venerable to mental illness.
Black women in particular endure unique challenges due to their intersectional cultural identities. Elyse Fox and Sad Girl’s Club continues to work and think of ways to not only increase knowledge and accessibility for women of color but also to reduce the existing stigma and barriers which prevent women – Black women, in particular – from seeking mental health treatment. Fox was raised in a Caribbean household in New York that did not welcome frequent conversations about mental health and wellness. This is common for many families of color in which it is not rare for discussions related to mental and emotional health challenges to be avoided. In many cases, mental health stigma is further exacerbated by a lack of education and knowledge and a tendency to minimize mental health concerns as exclusive to being experienced by “crazy” people. Consequently, some Blacks and people of color remain unaware that they might be experiencing depression or anxiety and dismiss their symptoms and experiences as normal, which was the case for Elyse.
After moving to Los Angeles, Fox became involved in an abusive relationship. Sadly, this is the reality for many young Black women. Black women suffer higher rates of sexual and physical violence than white women and it’s reported that approximately 60% of Black girls are sexually assaulted before they turn 18. Exposure to abuse only adds to the laundry list of other challenges that many Black women and young girls experience that impact their mental and emotional well-being. For Elyse, her experience with depression while in an abusive relationship eventually led to attempting to take her own life.
It quickly became clear to the Sad Girl’s Club founder that she was wrestling with depression, but at the time, she was not equipped with the language to thoughtfully name or understand what she was experiencing. This is the case for many Black women who struggle with depression, suicidality, and the weighty uncertainly of what they are experiencing. Hollywood mourned when This Is Us and Kidding writer, Jas Waters, committed suicide in early June after battling with extreme anxiety for years. Sadly, before Jas, other Black women and young girls have made headline news after taking their lives as well. Although Waters was aware of her raging battle with crippling anxiety, young girls such as sixth-grade honor roll student, Rylan Hagan who committed suicide — reportedly never expressed mental health challenges before her suicide.
Although a dark and painful time for Elyse, these experiences would later completely change the course of her life and the lives of others for the better. After she began to understand her experiences with depression, she became driven by a deep desire to help other women of color also put words and understanding to their emotional and mental health concerns. When asked to explain the genesis behind Sad Girl’s Club, Fox said, “Black women are always there to spice up the party but we’re never the party.” So, she created a party in which Black women and other women of color would be the center focus when she launched her first mental health awareness event for women of color in 2016. This marked the inception of Sad Girl’s Club which has grown tremendously over the years to provide a variety of services to young women and millennials.
Although much has remained the same since 2016 much has changed, and unfortunately, become worse for many Black women and women of color overall. As the country experienced a massive nationwide lockdown in March due to Covid-19, Elyse was hit with the reality that she would no longer be able to provide traditional services to young women of color such as group events, running clubs, and art therapy. She realized the need to quickly change the reach and accessibility of Sad Girl Club’s services to better accommodate the needs of women of color from around the world. Many of which who recently experienced layoffs, unemployment, and the devastating effects of the pandemic at alarming rates compared to white men and women. This change in landscape led to Soul Sessions, a virtual group counseling experience for women of color from around the world.
Each session is free, composed of about 10 women, and facilitated by therapists who are also women of color. To better understand the needs of the women who participate in the group experience, Fox felt that it was especially important for the counseling groups to be led by therapists who were women of color themselves. It was also important to Fox for the experience to be accessible by not only utilizing Zoom technology to facilitate the groups but also by making the services free. This was of significant importance to Fox, especially given the current economic hardships that so many women of color are experiencing due to the pandemic.
Soul Sessions has served as an answer to an ongoing problem for many Black women. Overall, mental health conditions occur in Blacks at the same rate as whites, but consistent exposure to violence and trauma has created a perfect storm for mental health symptoms among Blacks to present as more severe and to persist longer. The historic oppression, dehumanization, and targeted violence against Blacks that has evolved into present day racism – structural, institutional, and individual – has cultivated a less financially and socially affluent and uniquely mistrustful community characterized by a variety of disparities including inadequate access to and delivery of care in the healthcare system. Processing and dealing with multiple layers of individual trauma along with new mass traumas from Covid-19, police brutality, and its fetishization in the news only compounds layers of existing complexity for many Black women and the Black community overall.
But Fox did not stop with Soul Sessions. Last week, Sad Girl’s Club launched The Club, their newest subscription-based self-care program. Fox describes it as a “crash course for self-care enthusiasts who are passionate about healing through art and intention setting activities.” Users purchase a one-month long online membership for $30 and receive a branded box with tools for the course and online guidance via Zoom and community chats. Given the current racial climate in America, the program explores how trauma lives in the body and how to develop healthy emotional responses to address, process, and heal from that trauma. Club members will also be given journal tools (journal, pen, stickers, candle, lighter), writing prompts, and support through meditation and community conversation. Users can sign up now through September 3, the program is set to begin September 13.
Because Black women and women of color overall live at the intersection of being both racial and gender minorities, they experience the brunt of many of the structural and racial issues that exist in America – enduring challenges associated with racism and sexism, which ultimately limit their access to mental health services and help-seeking behavior. Elyse Fox has worked tirelessly with and through the Sad Girl’s Club to normalize discussions around depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges that women face. Through her personal experiences with mental health issues, she realized the need to create creative, culturally relevant, and life-changing services to promote access, education, awareness, wellness, and healing. Because of this, she has been an instrumental figure in helping to address mental health related barriers and stigma and has provided women of color a safe space to rest in the comfort of knowing that they are not alone.