I hope to create a space where people who care about mental health can tell their personal stories.
As wellness and mindfulness gain cultural currency, consumers are viewing mental and physical health together as part of a total package of wellbeing. Although up to 44 million American adults suffer from mental illness each year, the topic has long been sidelined by society. Today, health professionals and others are calling for a shift in the ways that mental illnesses are represented in culture.
ANXY is a new magazine that seeks to chip away at the stigmas surrounding mental health. The magazine, which ships its first issue in May, was founded by Indhira Rojas, a designer with a background in both tech and editorial. Rojas, who currently heads up Redindhi Studio, discusses how ANXY is taking shape.
You’ve written about why you started ANXY. Can you recap your background for us?
I’m sure you’ve read my Medium post, which is where I tell my personal story. I always felt like I was carrying this story and not able to share it in a way that felt safe and had a community around it. It felt like I didn’t really have a space where I could bring my full self, in terms of being comfortable around my trauma history.
Statistics show that one of five women have had this type of trauma experience. Why are we not having these conversations if we know, statistically, that more of us are out there? I was curious about finding a community of people who were open to speaking about this, not only through mental health support groups, but also in my everyday life.
So I wanted to create this opportunity to say, “Hey, aren’t we all a little anxy? And can’t we just be honest about that, rather than trying to pretend that everything is okay?” I felt like everyone was walking around with this persona where everything is okay. And then when we are in our intimate spaces, we actually allow ourselves to be vulnerable, and admit to ourselves that maybe everything is not okay.
Because I’d been working in editorial for the past five to eight years, it made sense to want to transform that idea into a publication. I do think that the only way to change our attitudes toward mental health is to create new social and cultural norms where mental health is okay to talk about, instead of being stigmatized, so that people who have this history don’t feel like they’re broken because of it. For me as a designer, and as a person in the world, I know that starts with storytelling and narrative, and shifting mindsets. And that’s part of the objective of the magazine: to create an opportunity to hear these stories and meet these people, and see that it’s really all around us.
One thing that really stands out is the magazine’s design. Was that an important focus for you?
As someone who has done therapy, one of my favorite parts of group therapy was art therapy, where you would sit down and pick a particular prompt around how you were feeling that day, or imagine a safe space. I feel that design and art are tools for our repair and healing, and for having all these difficult conversations. Why not use those in a storytelling capacity, and make something that is about mental health but is also beautiful and celebrates creativity?
How do you choose the themes for the issues?
Right now, it’s a gut thing. I wanted to start with the theme of anger. That’s probably informed by my own personal history, but also I’ve observed anger as a very mercurial emotion in the stories of other people. You understand that you have the right to feel angry, but you also feel ashamed about feeling angry. Also, there is this cultural understanding of who has the right to be angry, and how. And at some point, if you’ve observed someone being super angry and violent, you may want to distance yourself from that person.
So we thought anger was a really interesting and complex emotion that could create a very engaging first issue. The funny thing is, this was all discussed before what we’ve seen with the elections here in the US. So it’s kind of interesting to see that anger is now something we’re talking about almost every day. I don’t think that we’re going to try to turn the magazine into something that reflects the current political climate; it’s not about now funneling all our thoughts and concepts through that. But I think it’s interesting that anger is something that we’re talking about now.
How do you envision your target audience?
I think it’s open ended, for us. The only connecting issue is, do you care about this topic? I don’t think that it’s going to be a particular type of person, a specific age or a specific race or a specific gender identity or whatever. I think it can be a very universal, connecting topic.
In your experience, is society moving toward further acceptance of openly discussing mental health? Where do you see steps being taken?
Lady Gaga recently came out about her experiences with mental illness, and it was really interesting. She’s been at the forefront of culture and extremely creative and provocative, but even though she’s been in our lives for an extended period of time, only now do we get to hear her full story. I think we’ll hear more of these types of stories, because we’re becoming more and more aware of the importance of that part of our personal storytelling and our own growth process.
As a society, we’re also gaining a greater understanding of psychology and mental health, and the influence that it has in how our body reacts to stress. For me, I felt like it was like part of my personality to get very activated. And I didn’t know that my body was reacting that way for psychological reasons, and that my system was reacting to stress by going into flight-or-flight mode. We have language for that. And I think that those concepts are getting more and more established and validated, and people are getting more comfortable around the validity of psychology. That’s also allowing these conversations to happen.
Are there any other cultural trends or shifts you’ve seen that made it possible to launch ANXY now?
I think the other trend is what’s happening with indie publications right now—we’re seeing a lot of them, even if they’re small operations, and they do have an audience and people who want to support them. With the technological infrastructure that we have—which I used to raise some funds through Kickstarter and take pre-orders—I think people have better opportunities to launch indie magazines.
It’s almost a counter-reaction to our fast-consuming, throwaway content culture. It’s become evident, in a way, that this fast pace of content consumption is actually not that great for us, and that we do need more time away from screens. Connecting with objects in the real world, in an analog way through a magazine or a book, can be a different way of achieving that. It can help us get into a slow mode.
What is your hope for when the magazine launches? What kind of impact do you want it to have?
My hope is to create community and a space where these conversations are possible. Imagine walking down the street holding your ANXY magazine, and suddenly someone feels like they can talk to you because they think you might be open to having these difficult conversations. I hope to create a space where people who care about mental health can tell their personal stories and be open to having these mutually supportive conversations.
But I feel like right now we see mental health issues as things that are wrong with us. And that’s what I wish—that not just ANXY, but all of us, could embrace talking about this stuff.
What type of impact might this attitude have on businesses or employers?
There’s such a great opportunity for any organization to embrace this concept of openness and bringing these personal values into work, and bringing your whole person to work. Sometimes it’s not appropriate to have these conversations in your work environment—it’s good to be able to compartmentalize and have proper boundaries and all of those things. But at the other end of the spectrum, you have workplaces where you don’t get the opportunity to connect with coworkers at a human level, which can have a really negative impact on the work environment.
The Techies Project profiled a lot of tech workers who are of minority groups. It was interesting to hear their stories, in terms of their experiences at work, and to realize that the companies they work for have so much more that they can contribute to improving life for people in the tech industry. It’s an industry with such high stress, and if you have somebody sensitive to challenges with mental health and you put them in that high-stress environment, it’s going to compound whatever was already happening for them in their lives.
There’s a responsibility there. If we know that individuals who may have an issue with depression or panic attacks or being a trauma survivor are going to be in a high-stress environment, how do we help them navigate that world? How do we facilitate that process?
For more about how shifting attitudes toward mental health are playing out across the consumer landscape, see “#78—New mental health” in the Future 100: Trends and change to watch in 2017.