Saturday was World Mental Health Day! Did you make time for yourself? It’s not too late because, psst, every day you should take time for and respect your mental health. It’s a journey, but you are nowhere close to being alone.
This week we’re talking with Elyse Fox, founder and CEO of Sad Girls Club. It’s a nonprofit designed to support women of color and the millennial and Gen Z population, offering resources like free group therapy sessions and self-care programs. Today, more than 285,000 people follow Sad Girls Club on Instagram.
From our respective apartments in Brooklyn, New York, over Zoom, we talked about what motivated Fox to launch Sad Girls Club in 2017 and why now is the time to think creatively about making a difference.
I’d love to start our conversation with a question about the name of your organization, Sad Girls Club. What’s its origin story?
I created the name Sad Girls Club because when I first spoke about my mental health, there were a lot of younger women who needed advice on how to navigate their own mental health journey. They really didn’t have the language to say, I’m feeling depressed or I’m feeling anxious. All they knew was I feel sad — I don’t know what is going on, but I feel sad. Sadness is the first emotion opposite of happy that you can kind of relate to if you aren’t feeling your best.
I didn’t want to name it something like the Depression Club or something too heavy. And I feel like sadness, as a word, is something we learn at a very early age. It embodies different feelings related to mental health. It’s just an easy-to-find kind of thing.
How would you describe a member of the Sad Girls Club?
They are very creative, very open-minded, and willing to work on themselves.
What motivated you to create this organization?
When I spoke out about my mental health, I felt like I was a weirdo and I was the only one experiencing what I was experiencing. But once I put out a film documenting my worst year of my depression, I received a wave of positive feedback — feedback from girls who were a lot younger than me who wanted to navigate their mental health journey.
I was like, I can either make this just an Instagram film thing or I can take this to the next level, help people, and create something that causes a larger conversation. I wanted to make something accessible; I wanted to make a club that is fun. I wanted to make a cool nonprofit because nonprofits can be hella stuffy. I wanted it to be inviting.
I didn’t see a space like that, and I figured I could complain or create. So I decided to create something that’s beautiful.
Sad Girls Club supports the millennial and Gen Z populations. Do you think there are unique aspects related to members of these generations?
The Gen Z population is so open to saying let’s change what isn’t working and let’s change it now. I love it; I thrive off that community. I’ve always said I don’t want this to be the Elyse Fox Club, I want this to be the Sad Girls Club — so whatever you want me to provide for you, let me know. And they are the most vocal. They will be age 12, 13, 14, and they want to talk about big things that I was not thinking about, like period equity.
I definitely think that Gen Z is going to change the world, and it makes it easy for me to have that conversation because they are so open and so willing. They are looking for this space.
With millennials, we grew up in this weird time where we lived half of our lives offline, and then the other half we’ve had to live online to do what you have to do. So we’re still kind of learning and navigating. Our generation is a trial run generation where we are the only ones who have had to be in both worlds. Millennials really respond to situations like, Ok, let’s get off our phones, crochet, and have a conversation. With Gen Z, I can be more experimental, and plan things that are a bit more creative and push the needle.
Could you please speak to the issue of accessibility and mental health, especially in connection to the Sad Girls Club’s Soul Sessions. Do you think people would utilize more resources like therapy sessions if they could afford to do so?
Absolutely. I feel like even sometimes for me therapy is inaccessible, and I’m like, I got to cancel this meeting. It’s hard because you want it, and it’s a great tool to heal. So many people can’t even fathom having that experience because it costs so much. It’s simply not accessible and many insurances do not cover it.
One of my main goals since I first started Sad Girls Club was I want to give free therapy. I don’t know how the hell I’m going to do it, because I have no money and connections, but I want this to be a place where people can get a free resource and heal together.
Once the pandemic hit and we had to completely halt all of our in-person meetings, which were really special to our community, I wondered, How can we still connect and have conversation? Soul Sessions seemed like the perfect opportunity, and within less than 24 hours, we had a waitlist of over 250 people who wanted to sign up.
I think that if there were more offerings, people would definitely engage and take advantage of therapy, at least to try it out.
Soul Sessions are also described on the Sad Girls Club website as a way to combat feelings of loneliness. Surveys show that in the United States, Gen Z is especially lonely. From your perspective, what could be done to address this problem, starting with projects like Soul Sessions and beyond?
I think we need to be really scrappy and strategic right now. We’re all in a period of learning, changing as we go, and growing as we change. I feel like this is a really good time to be experimental and to support communities — especially if you have a platform that is community led.
If you’re in an organization, this is the time to figure out ways to find out what the community needs. We do a lot of surveys with our Instagram story, asking what people want. I learn so much, and it teaches me new ways of thinking about issues. I think it’s time for organizations to put in the extra work, but it will be so rewarding to create something helpful and new.
For example, a lot of our in-person events were focused around art therapy. Girls could come and we’d do things like a “paint and sip” night or a poetry slam. And now, a lot of the girls are asking, “Can we have an online poetry slam?” And I was like, Oh yeah, definitely. I can reach more people because it’s online. I can invite more artists and expand it in ways I didn’t really think about before. To that end, we recently launched a program called The Club, and it’s sort of like Birchbox meets art therapy.
What’s next for Sad Girls Club? What are some of your long term goals?
Eventually, I really want to bring back our in-person events in the safest way possible. There was something so magical about those events and, you know, seeing people in-person, even now, is such a joy.
We’re hosting a telethon in December to raise funds for Sad Girls Club so we can expand and be in different cities. We’ll also be relaunching our ambassador program where girls at different colleges can host their own Sad Girls Club sessions or their own Zoom chats. We’re really trying to revisit what we had going on and figure out the most responsible way to relaunch it in 2021.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.
What I’m reading this week
Distract yourself from the scaries with these reads: “Can loneliness be cured with a pill?” A fascinating look at loneliness and whether it is time to treat it as a disease. “What is brain fog and what causes it?” Been there, felt that. “Medical experts explain why the best Covid-19 treatments aren’t ‘slam dunks.’”An article by yours truly on what’s available and what doctors want to be available.
And if it’s midnight and you’re still feeling the scaries . . .
Thank you so much for reading Sunday Scaries! Do you have any self-care tips that have helped you make it through 2020? Let me know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, I’d love to share some examples in the next newsletter.