Written By: D’Shonda Brown
The #ShopBlack Interview Series is a new installation that shines light upon budding and booming Black-owned businesses ran by and Gen-Z’ers who are heavily influenced by hip-hop culture. For this special edition of #ShopBlack, I wanted to dive deep into Depression Awareness Month. Introducing Dr. Jessica Clemons, MD, Psychiatrist, a strong Black woman whose efforts consist of utilizing social media and community discussions to educate her own platform audience. Dr. Jess has been recognized by Forbes as a leader in making mental health and wellness apart of the current zeitgeist, and has been featured on VH1, ABC News, ESSENCE, CNN, The Breakfast Club and Good Morning America – to name a few. Read below the in-depth interview between D’Shonda Brown and Dr. Jess as they dissect the importance of mental health in the Black community, the correlation between hip-hop and mental health, and more.
Hey, Dr. Clemons! First and foremost, I am a huge fan of your work in the mental health field – you are a huge inspiration to me and other Black women. How did you get your start in mental health and what peaked your interest?
Thank you for your kind words and support! My interest in mental health, specifically Psychiatry, developed during medical school when I spent 6 weeks rotating on a psychiatric unit as a third year medical student. Prior to this rotation, I was not aware of the significant impact mental illness has on a person’s life, from the impact on their body to their functioning. During this rotation, I witnessed these struggles firsthand. I helped care for patients with severe mental illness and I saw them get better from psychiatric interventions. I saw people get a chance to have their life back.
We are here to have an extremely transparent conversation. I suffer from high functioning anxiety and depression; and was diagnosed back in 2017. I was afraid to go to therapy and psychiatrists because I didn’t want to be labeled or stigmatized by my peers, my family, friends, amd colleagues. How do you feel that the stigmatization of mental health has evolved – or dissolved?
Firstly, congratulations for taking an active role in your mental health and well-being — that can be one of the most difficult positions to take for many reasons including stigma. Stigma is a mark of disgrace; a label people carry as a result of the views of others. People who are stigmatized experience feelings of shame and guilt as they experience (or perceive) judgment from others. It occurs with many different “disadvantaged” positions in society and mental disorders are not exempt.
Studies have reflected that generally “stigma” surrounding mental disorders has lessened. However within certain racial/ethnic groups, religious groups, and geographical regions, for example, stigma is very much active for numerous reasons. One includes a general lack of understanding about mental disorders.
The way to combat stigma, especially for someone on the receiving end, is to live your life as fully as you can, anyways! A person who is diagnosed with a mental disorder is not alone. It’s quite common. Data reflects that over 40 million American adults have a mental disorder. With stigma, the shame can come from the individual internalizing this belief that he/she/they are a disgrace, so be aware of that too. Get focused on thriving. If you need to see a psychiatrist, see one. Speak up against stigma. Join a group. Start one. But don’t suffer in silence because of a fear of stigma. That’s going to continue making it hard for people to get the help they need and deserve!
You’ve been featured on Forbes, ESSENCE, CNN, The Breakfast Club, Good Morning America, and so much more. It’s safe to say that you’re relatively familiar with the entertainment space. I know that when we talk about headlines in entertainment when we refer to Chris Brown, Britney Spears, etc. We often think of the negative stigmas placed on these individuals for their psychological disorders. But when we see people like Michelle Williams, Ariana Grande and Mariah Carey openly discuss their mental illnesses, fans seem more receptive. How do you feel about celebrities coming forward about their mental health disorders and what is your opinion on providing mental health resources to the artist/talent as much as the employees behind the scenes?
I think it’s great. Public figures have a tremendous opportunity to use their huge reach to engage with their audience in a meaningful way. Choosing to come forward and share their experiences with mental disorders has to be liberating and rewarding. It contributes to reducing stigma and normalizing seeking help. Not enough people are getting the help they need or deserve. Suicide rates have increased drastically amongst teens in the last 20 years.
So, again, I am in support of making conversations about mental health as comfortable, common, and casual as discussions about TV shows or latest fashion trends, for example. We should be able to say to each other, “How was your therapy session this week?” without blinking an eye. I have also had the privilege of generating a platform because of my use of social media to educate and advocate. I’ve used my platform to provide resources, in the form of education and modeling safe spaces, to ALL – regardless of background including social status. My mission is to contribute to reducing stigma and increasing willful engagement with mental health treatment.
Let’s talk about your conversation series, BeWellConvo. You’ve had intimate conversations with June Ambrose, Swizz Beatz, Jessie Reyez and Rapsody – just to name a few. What inspired you to start these conversations and what is your goal? What message do you hope to relay to your audience?
To educate my audience about various mental health topics I was using Instagram LIVE, via #askdrjess. Expanding to doing health and wellness workshops in the community called, Serving Myself I saw the impact honest dialogue and providing information as an expert had on those who attended. I wanted to take this experience and provide it to a larger audience. I started “#BeWell, A Conversation Series”, to provide a safe space to have conversations about real life and obviously, mental health. All with the goal to encourage and inspire the audience while normalizing conversations about mental health.
Your brand also encompasses a merchandise line (which I will be sure to buy from once my next check roles in). Your signature tote bag reads, “You are not your pain, you are love,” which is also seen on the entryway into your website. What does this mean, and how do you hope this message will inspire others?
During residency, I had the honor of caring for remarkable people who I helped. In turn who also helped me to become a better physician. They deepened my empathy and my belief in humanity. During this experience I realized the power of hope and having deep, meaningful connections with others in overcoming life’s challenges. Let’s face it, life is challenging, most definitely more difficult for some than others. When I say, “you are not your pain, you are love”, I am reminding people that despite all the negative experiences, the past hurts, the loss, the traumas, these do not define us. We have access to love, or peace, to be restored with work, maintaining hope and, most importantly, with each other. To not go quietly into the night.
Dr. Jess can be found on Instagram, @AskDrJess. You can also shop her apparel now available for purchase online at askdrjess.com .