Jessica Clemons, a New York City-based psychiatrist has become internet sensation for her online platform, where she creates conversation to help people better understand mental health.
Her social media has been one of her biggest tools to help reduce stigma associated with mental illness, specifically in the black community.
Dr Clemons’ goal to de-stigmatize mental health treatment was inspired by her upbringing. She told GoodMorningAmerican:
“I grew up in the South, I’m also a part of the black community and, historically, we haven’t really had a lot of conversations around mental illness for both of those reasons.
We really think a lot about church and how that can be an area where people can talk about their problems, and then also in the black community, [mental health is] also very taboo.”
According to a 2014 survey by the United States Office of Minority Health, only 9.4% of non-Hispanic black adults received mental health treatment or counseling, compared to 18.8% of non-Hispanic white adults.
Clemons explained that one of the many reasons there’s a stigma around mental health in the black community is that if someone can’t deal with issues in church “then the thought is that you don’t have enough faith or you’re not giving it over to the church enough.”
“It becomes an issue of what is most important,” she said.
The Psychiatrist stated that for these reasons, she didn’t have a lot of conversations about mental illness growing up in her community, but in her household, everyone was “open about their feelings.” Clemons shared further:
“I think that allowed me to feel very comfortable with the other aspects of mental health, which is being comfortable talking about emotions.”
Clemons received her medical degree from Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University, where she realized she wanted to become a psychiatrist with a focus on mental illness. She said:
“I found myself using social media to tell the story and the journey, and people were asking me questions about anxiety and depression.”
5 commonly asked questions about mental health and treatment
For Mental Health Awareness Month, Dr. Clemons shared five questions and concerns regarding mental illness and treatment that she’s frequently asked.
1. What is the difference between a psychiatrist, psychologist and therapist?
Dr. Clemons explained:
“I’m a psychiatrist, which is a medical doctor who has done additional training or specialized training in the form of psychiatry. A psychologist is a doctor who has a Ph.D. and they’ve done additional clinical training to treat patients as well.
What’s interesting is that the main difference is that a psychiatrist is the type of doctor that prescribes medication.
But both the psychiatrist and the psychologist can practice as therapists, so I think it’s really important to think about what your issues may be, and go in and see from there what kind of specialist would be best for you. Is it a medication need or a need for therapy?”
2. Therapy is so expensive. How can I afford it?
The young doc said:
“When we think about the historical process of going to therapy, [it] can be very expensive. I think what’s important to think about is resources people have access to, which is through the internet and using the internet to find places like federally funded health clinics, which often do have psychiatrists who can see you for a reduced fee and also accept some form of insurance like Medicaid or Medicare.”
She also noted that a lot of insurances do reimburse patients for services. She added:
“They may not reimburse for the entire fee, but they certainly do give a certain number of dollars back.”
3. I prefer a therapist from the same background. Should I consider therapists from different background?
“Background can mean anything from gender to race to sexuality, and I want to point out that that places the individual at a limitation. It is very difficult to find a therapist that has almost everything similar to yourself.”
Instead, Clemons stressed the importance of looking for a therapist who is “empathetic and who you feel like understands you and is listening.” “Keep your options open,” she said.
4. How can I support a loved one who has a mental illness?
Clemons shared further:
“What I often tell people is, it’s so helpful to be a listener. I think, oftentimes, we forget how moving that can be if your loved one comes to you and they’re having a difficult time. Just pull up a chair, listen.”
“You don’t have to focus on solving the issue, but certainly encourage them to continue the treatment that they’re in and create a space where they can talk about their emotions.”
5. What are ways to cope with symptoms of anxiety?
Clemons shared that one way to cope with symptoms of anxiety — which, she specified, is not a form of treatment and to seek professional help — is to practice mindfulness. She shared:
“Mindfulness you can do anywhere. It’s where you take the moment to allow all of your senses to come into play.
“You can do that while eating a piece of fruit, like an orange, and really pay attention to every detail of that orange down to how it smells, feels and tastes. What that will do is help you get out of your own head and into the moment.”
She also advocates for practicing things like yoga, meditation and all things “that can help you to center yourself.”
One thing Dr. Jess wants people to know about mental health:
“If you are thinking about ‘I’m wondering if I need to seek out help for an issue that’s affecting your mental health,’ I would encourage you to do so.”