How comfortable are you with talking about mental health? Not advocating, nor publicizing – just a simple conversation without stigmatizing but instead understanding what’s it about and why you should even care. What’s so hard about that?
In Jamaica alone, the talk on mental health and wellness is one that comes with lots of hesitation and ignorance. And that’s not anyone’s fault, really. Why would we be comfortable talking about something that hasn’t been brought to our attention until recent years? People were either normal or ‘loony’, and most of us thought there was no in-between. But there is, and there’s so much more to it than meets the eye. We take care of our hair and skin, we watch what we eat (or at least try to), so why not take care of our minds?
And here’s where someone like Shanice J. Douglas comes in.
Who exactly is she?
“My name is Shanice J. Douglas, a StoryTeller and Mental & Emotional Wellness Advocate. I write, I creatively direct, and through it all, I make sure that the stories that need to be told are shared. While I studied Psychology, Health, and Behavior in both undergraduate and graduate programs, I have also had my own negative mental and emotional experiences where I felt disempowered. Witted Roots is the safe space that I needed, but was never entirely sure where to find.”
Shanice has created a platform, Witted Roots, to aid millennial Jamaican women with self-discovery and their mental wellness. Don’t let the specificity of her audience drive you away, though – what she has to say has enough merit to apply to anyone willing to listen (or read). So please open your mind to all she had to say to me for her interview.
What was the inspiration behind Witted Roots ? How did the name itself come about?
- I founded Witted Roots as a mental and emotional wellness platform for millennial Jamaican women. It is meant to be a hub for education, as well as a safe space for acknowledging and processing individual mental and emotional experiences.
- The name Witted Roots was the ultimate winner of a conscious brainstorming of a name that would truly represent what this platform is about: digging deeper into the roots/foundations of yourself and your psychological experiences, in a witty, quirky, and non-stuffy way. We wanted to make sure that individuals could connect the information and other content provided, with their own lives. Almost akin to having a close friend, or awesome older cousin, who you know won’t lead you astray because they really care about, and does so with their own quirky personality always present.
Your target demographic is millennial Jamaican women. Why did you choose this specific audience for your platform?
I have this personal theory about this period of life (post-high school – early adulthood) – it is a seemingly never-ending period of transition. Many of us find ourselves in this space where we are being pulled by a number of different things and people, while trying to figure out just where we want to fit in this world. This period is prime ground for a certain transformative level of self-fighting, where your thoughts, emotions, past, desires, and wants become your own personal enemies, blocking you from having peace and fulfillment.
As young women, especially in a society that has deep-rooted misgivings about psychological health and just how integral it is to an individual’s personal well-being, it is not uncommon to have negative mental and emotional experiences that we probably have no idea about. For many, it is a constant battle between learning how you would like to BE as a person in this world, and feeling like you have to fit into a mold created by others’ expectations. From anxiety to panic attacks, depression to bipolar disorder, we are not widely taught what these things actually are, how to acknowledge them, and more importantly, how to go about alleviating the negative effects. It is also not uncommon to hear adages about being young, not “having chick nor child”, and thus “having nothing to be worrying about”, where our experiences are discredited and completely brushed under the rug.
Considering all of that: where do you go?
How would you describe the community that Witted Roots provides for these young women?
- Witted Roots is that place where you can access general information about different aspects of mental and emotional health, while being given the tools to be empowered in taking care of your own psychological well-being. This is the place that you can come to as a second-year college student or a recent graduate, for example, and find information about the anxiety that you’ve been experiencing for years, but never knew how to be conscious of.
- It is important to us to be a safe, non-judgemental hub for young women who, despite being in varying life circumstances, can connect with myself and others who will listen and be genuinely interested in their wellness, empowerment, and life fulfillment.
- Self-reflection is one of the main foundations of our platform, and with that comes an inherent vulnerability. Our community is one where you should feel comfortable digging to the roots of your experiences, without worry that there will be malicious judgement.
The conversation of mental health is a growing one but yet still taboo to most Jamaicans. Describe your personal view on the importance of increasing awareness on the importance of mental health.
Continuous awareness-raising of mental health affords us the opportunity to learn more about what it actually is, and will eventually lead to greater options for treatment. The more that young women are made to understand how important it is to be consciously in-tune with their mental and emotional wellness, the greater likelihood that they will find themselves on a stronger foundation to a more fulfilling life.
Mental health and wellness has a plethora of myths and stigmas attached to it. What are your views (and debunks) of the following:
- "Talking about mental health only concerns those with serious mental illnesses (schizophrenia, severe anxiety, etc)."
While these severe mental illnesses exist and are important, mental health encompasses more than being ill. When the sole focus is on severe diagnoses and prescriptive treatments, the general population is not given space to consider that mental and emotional wellness is a defining line throughout their everyday lives. Mental wellness concerns us all, regardless of our background or history.
- "Anxiety, low self-esteem and depression are just phases. People just need to snap out of it."
Mental illness is not a flaw in character, and neither is it a fickle experience. Anxiety and depression, for example, can fall anywhere from mild to severe, so there cannot be any single method to recovery. Individuals with varying experiences need to a range of treatment options in order to regain more positive mental wellness, so a one-size-fits-all “snap out of it” mentality could not be sustainable (nor helpful) in the long run.
- "Self-help is a waste of time. You'll feel better if you just take some pills."
Like I mentioned before, just as there can be a wide range of mental and emotional wellness experiences, there is an even wider range of options available to seek recovery. For some circumstances, psychotropic treatments may be the best bet, while self-help may empower you to make impactful choices on your own. Self-help does not have to be relegated to a lower level than prescription treatments, especially since actually sustaining those treatments require a bit of self-help as well. Self-help is a very broad term after all, and if we begin to view it as a basis to how we seek treatment of any kind, its value will be more apparent.
- "It is impossible to recover. Once you've been sad/depressed/anxious, you'll just have to live with it."
No life experience has the power to relentless be in the driver’s seat, however, this does not take away from how it may affect your recovery. Your experiences will always be a part of you, as memories, and as sources of great lessons, however, it is not absolute that you will be confined to the state of sad/depressed/anxious forever. There are a slew of treatment options available, regardless of where you may be on any continuum, so your now does not have to be your forever. It is possible to look ahead to a future where you are more prepared to live with these experiences, without allowing them the driver’s seat. Getting there is different for everyone, but it’s a journey I believe is worth undertaking.
Traditionally, women are expected to be caretakers to others with little time to themselves. Why is it so important to let women make themselves their top priority?
Self-care is essential care and is, whether we like to admit it or not, the basis of how we are able to even help others in the way that we aim to. Most people have probably heard the analogy of likening self-care to the standard safety instructions before a flight takes off: “In the unlikely event of loss of air pressure within the cabin, oxygen masks will deploy from overhead. Please affix your own before attempting to assist anyone else.” As corny as some may take it, there is some truth at the core of that message. We cannot think to be of value to others, without first fortifying the foundation with practice of caring consciously for ourselves.
I have personally had the experience where, after years of being a go-to for others to vent about their experiences, I found myself close to a breakdown. Once I began to make a conscious effort, however inconsistent at first, to self-reflect on what makes me tick, I started to acknowledge that I was becoming increasingly drained by constantly being the sponge that soaked up others negative emotions. Digging deeper, for some of those persons, I could not find that same care reciprocated, and it lead me to further discoveries about my worth. Given that mini-tangent, I said all of that to make the point that self-care is a basis of pretty much everything else: our relationships with ourselves, our relationships with others, as well as how we navigate our overall wellbeing. Without performing self-care in the form of reflection and making my own wellness a top priority, I could not have been able to acknowledge how my worth was reflected within my interactions with others.
Your site provides the Rooted Master Plan™ Workbook (which I’ve personally enjoyed using), that aids in self-discovery towards mental and emotional wellness. What inspired you to create this workbook?
The Rooted Master Plan Workbook is the first in a line of digital (and physical) resources that I have created to make it easier for individuals to go through that process of actually digging into the What behind their mental and emotional experiences, while providing them with the opportunity to empower themselves through their own research and conscious decision-making about their next best step.
This particular workbook was sparked, many months ago, by a thought about the importance that is placed on physical wellness, especially within the New Year’s Resolution bubble, yet, there is rarely a consideration of how mental and emotional wellness plays into overall health. I decided to create something that would allow each individual to touch upon some aspects of their psychological wellness with tools that prompt you to empower yourself through personal research, as well as activities that give you the opportunity to start digging (there’s a theme here, huh?) into Who, What, Where, Why and How your mental and emotional experiences are the way that they are.
Are there any current or future plans/projects you’d like to highlight?
There are a number of products, projects, and events that we will be releasing soon, including:
Rooted: The Docu-Series
This is our flagship docu-series project that encourages millennial Jamaican women to share stories about mental and emotional experiences, highlighting struggles and breakthroughs. It will be an ongoing series, so while we are almost finished with shooting for Season I, we will continue to invite interest for upcoming seasons here. We would love to hear from anyone who is willing to share their stories and showcase that there is strength in vulnerability.
It is in collaboration with Natural Light Photographer and Cinematographer, D. L. Samuels (@shotbydlsamuels), and the first episode is slated to be released in early April.
Rooted Reflections: Guided Journal
Journaling can quickly become an inconsistent habit, especially with a blank notebook that does not provide any structure or guidance for self-reflection. This journal is designed to not only be visually appealing, but most importantly, it streamlines the process of digging deeper into your thoughts, hurts, confusions, and revelations, shedding unhealthy baggage as you go along.
It encourages you to do the internal work necessary to get to the core of who you are as an individual, even if at times it feels uncomfortable.
The Rooted Reflections Journal is filled with prompts to make it that much easier to reflect on your experiences, and how you navigate the world around you.
Do you have any plans of expanding your platform, whether to target another demographic or provide this community through other media?
Witted Roots is now mainly a digital platform, with articles and info-products via our website, however, we will soon be expanding into utilizing a video platform for sharing visual projects (such as Rooted), physical products (such as the Rooted Reflections Journal), and events such as workshops and retreats (to be announced in the latter part of the year).
Finally, to the young woman reading this, who is still a little apprehensive to join or just to take a look at what you have to share with them, what would you like to say to her?
Given the deeply rooted history of generations of individuals not making mental health a priority, I would not expect that everyone would be gung-ho to engage with the platform positively.
To that young woman who is hesitant to partake in a psychological wellness platform, such as Witted Roots, I say “It’s OK.” There is strength in vulnerability, but there is no need to rush or push yourself to engage when you are not yet comfortable to do so. Witted Roots will be here when you are ready, no matter when that time happens to be, and we hope that when that happens, you will find it valuable, empowering, and informative. I just want to let you know that this safe space exists, and it’s not going anywhere. Take your time.