This Instagram Activist Is Smashing the Stigma on Depression: 'I Want to Change the Narrative of a Picture-Perfect life'
Elyse Fox founded the Sad Girls Club to empower young women dealing with mental health issues.
This profile is part of Health’s #RealLifeStrong series, where we are celebrating women who represent strength, resilience, and grace.
About a year and a half ago, Brooklyn-born filmmaker Elyse Fox released a 7-minute documentary about her journey through depression, called Conversations With Friends. Over the next few weeks, messages from people who had seen the film poured into the 28-year-old's inbox. “I received comments from a wave of girls who just wanted advice on how to be more open with their friend groups and families," she says.
To continue the dialogue, Fox launched a private Instagram account called the Sad Girls Club. But the requests for access became overwhelming. “Every day—and then every few hours—I would have to accept other girls,” she says. Eventually, Fox made the account public, so “everyone could receive something positive.”
Today, @sadgirlsclub has more than 35,000 followers. And Fox's own account (@elyse.fox) has swelled to 30,000 followers. Both serve as safe places for people to talk freely about their emotional struggles—and in the process, chip away at the social stigma surrounding mental illness, particularly for young women of color.
On both accounts, Fox shares positive mantras, motivational messages, and coping mechanisms. The Sad Girls Club also features "member spotlights," in which girls describe their own experiences with mental health issues in about 50 words. “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 … we can actually put out positive things that are kind of imperfect.”
About a month after she launched Sad Girls Club, Fox brought a small group of followers together for a real-life meetup, led by a therapist, in New York city. (The event was also live-streamed.) That gathering led to many more: To date Fox has organized about 20—some with larger audiences (such as a recent poetry slam), and others more intimate, with just a handful of young women.
Fox's focus on girls is purposeful, she explains. “I want to get information out there sooner rather than later, before they are stigmatized. It’s so beautiful to me to … make new history about the way we talk about mental health.”
The power of her own story is not lost on Fox, who has struggled with depression since she was a child. "Growing up, there was a lack of representation of what mental health looked like in general, but especially among women of color," she says. "There were no advocates who were successful, proud–and also had depression, or anxiety, or PTSD openly.”
When Fox received her diagnosis at age 23, she didn't know who to talk to. “I didn’t have an outlet,” she says. “I basically created Sad Girls Club for the 10-year-old Elyse. [It's all] the things I would have wanted to see when I was going through what I was going through.”
Over the last five years, Fox has 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 manages her depression with yoga, meditation, journaling, and other daily rituals. And she tries to give to her community what she never had. “I’m not perfect, but I want to be representative," she says. "I can live a full, fruitful life with mental health issues.”