Elyse Fox is a ray of soulful sunshine. She’s sweet and sassy and sleek as they come. Skin glowing, hair booming with the kind of unique style you’d expect from a creative. She’s 7 months pregnant, cooking up the coolest kid in town with her achingly hip photographer boyfriend Jocko Graves. And although sweet and sensitive to the core she’s the least likely poster girl for depression and that’s why it’s magic. Featured in Dazed, Vogue and Forbes she’s not one to miss. She’s real, raw and rockin the mental health world but who is she really?
New York filmmaker and mental health advocate Elyse Fox burst onto the scene back in 2016 when she released her documentary Conversations with Friends. The 7 minute short film outlined her personal journey with depression as well as the places and friends who helped her through. She grew up in Brooklyn in the 90’s but recalls hearing little conversation around mental health.
‘I’m a first generation Caribbean woman’ she says. ‘Growing up, we never really spoke about mental health. The topic of mental illness was just not discussed in my home. When I was younger my mum had symptoms of depression. She couldn’t get out of bed for 12 hours at a time, though there was never a family conversation about her illness. I’d heard the word “depression” around, sometimes kids would call each other “depressed” as a joke and the teacher would correct them. But otherwise I had to educate myself on what it actually meant.” After years spent battling her own journey she decided to seek help, “I was at the bottom of the barrel; I had two options, really, and I chose to get help.”
Part of her road to recovery included opening up about her experience, Conversations with Friends, an ode to this. Soon after its release Fox received mail from hundreds of young girls asking her to mentor them.
“I had a tonne of girls respond to that film. They saw themselves in my story, and connected with my experience of depression and heartbreak. Elyse responded directly to each girl. Through these interactions, she figured out what they were looking for. Some girls wanted advice on treatment, while others just wanted someone to talk to”.
Where possible, Elyse referred them to local medical resources, but she wanted to do more, to create something that was accessible to everyone; a community where girls felt safe to talk about their struggles, where they knew they wouldn’t be alone, and most importantly where they could find information about mental health, that they otherwise might not be able to access or afford. “It wasn’t until I was the most vulnerable in my work that I was able to reach the people that I was trying to reach,” she says. It was the mass reaction and unification of people from all over the world that prompted her to launch Sad Girls Club.
Overnight Sad Girls Club was created on Instagram. As the community started to grow Elyse began bringing girls together for special events. The first one, hosted by a New York therapist was live streamed on Facebook with over 22,000 tuning in for the event to ask questions and share their personal journey. The website followed next, with a host of people from around the world contributing personal essays, poetry and art.
Sad Girls Club has gone from strength to strength over the past 2 years with the focus now narrowing in on educating companies and schools on mental health. In the last few months, she’s started working with various corporate companies in New York on creating mental health workshops, where employees can come and learn about mental health treatment and create an open dialogue about anything they might be struggling with. Over the past five years Elyse developed a treatment toolkit that works for her. “I tried finding a therapist, but I couldn’t connect the way I had anticipated,” she says, so she found alternative ways of managing her emotions through art and spirituality.
While she’s still working on ways to manage her emotions on a daily basis Sad Girls Club has helped dramatically with this. Her duties in the club keep her grounded and with her increasingly busy schedule she’s had to really focus on her self-care routine. “My work through Sad Girls Club has helped me learn what self-care means for me. I have fully inserted self-care in my day-to-day routine. Having a solid schedule has positively impacted my mental health and gives me something to look forward to everyday”. Day to day she manages her depression with yoga, meditation, journaling, and other daily rituals. She’s trying to give to her community the support she never had. “I’m not perfect, but I want to be representative and for me, self care has been one of the most beneficial parts of uplifting my mental health. Having a routine or activity to look forward to may help you feel more supported when you’re on our own. My routine helps me detach and center myself and personal needs.”
The Sad Girls Club community consists mainly of millenials, a nod to the growing statistics around the wellbeing of this ‘anxious’ generation.
“I feel this generation is one of the first to emphasize the importance of self-care. I’d never considered or even thought that taking care of my mental health was crucial until a the surge of self-care initiatives. Society will continue to pressure us, now we’re more encouraged to care for ourselves.” Asked on her personal tips for self-care she comments “Make your routine unique to YOU! I can’t stress this enough, ask yourself the important questions. ‘How do I want to feel today?’ ‘What’s accessible to me?’ Customize your healing and don’t put pressure on yourself to spend money on the newest wellness product.”
Having found respite in art Elyse is passionate about the role creativity can play in managing the symptoms of poor mental health. She’s particularly interested in poetry, film, photography and fashion.
“I think fashion and film go hand in hand. Through both, you have the platform to express yourself freely; you can wear your emotions on your sleeve or dress up in your favorite pair of shoes to uplift your spirit. As a filmmaker, I’m able to tell my story through my lens and share it with the world”.
On whether social media is fuelling the mental health crisis we’re currently facing, Elyse resists.
“We give social media so much shit, but ultimately it was created to connect people,” she says. “We’re responsible for what we put out there. I want to change the narrative of a picture-perfect life and show people that we can actually put out positive things that are kind of imperfect. I think everyone is getting tired of seeing everything look so perfect. Being real should have always been in but I think especially now, people are just really aware and are really craving authenticity.” Elyse does accept that sometimes social media can be a place of discomfort for those managing mental health issues but for the mostpart she is focused on its ability to connect people who are experiencing isolation without any support.”
One thing is certain this is a girl on a mission. With a partnership with Nike, an ambassador program in the making and real life events being rolled around around the globe Elyse is fast tracking for world domination one continent at a time. And something tells me she hasn’t even warmed up yet.