Minority Mental Health Advocate: Jessica Gimeno
"We have to take into account the additional cultural barriers some people face" -Jessica
Tell us about the work you do and how you got started.
How I got involved...well I struggled with recurring symptoms of depression starting in my childhood, which became more severe in my teenage years. My senior year of high school, I asked adults for help but was told, "this is just teenage angst." Then, my freshman year of college, I lost a friend who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder to suicide. Everything started to click--why she was the only person who "got" me. I started researching bipolar disorder and saw half the symptoms in myself (insomnia hypomania not being able to sleep until after 5 hours, inexplicable crying spells, feeling depressed--sometimes suicidal--for no reason at all, feeling fine again for no reason at all, etc). I saw the campus psychiatrist who diagnosed me with bipolar 2 and got a second opinion, which also confirmed the diagnosis. I used to work for an organization called the Child & Adolescent Bipolar Foundation. Since 2014, I have been working with Rutgers University on developing a manual to help young adults with severe mental illness find meaningful employment. I'm passionate about helping people with depression pursue their goals; my TEDx Talk, "How to Get Stuff Done When You Are Depressed," has been viewed 700,000 times. People can read my blog, Fashionably ill where I talk about surviving pain--mental and physical--with style and humor.
Why does minority mental health matter to you?
Minority mental health matters to me because if we want to help people, we have to take into account the additional cultural barriers some people face, which sometimes includes language. Many awareness campaigns unintentionally ignore cultural barriers. In the past, when I helped Asian and Hispanic students of mine who were struggling with mental illness, finding a counselor or therapist who spoke their family's language was the most important thing I did in getting loved ones to support them.
What would you tell your younger self?
I would tell my younger self to "hang in there" and that one day she will get a name for "the darkness" (bipolar disorder). And when that happens she won't have to fight against a nameless, faceless enemy anymore. Life post-diagnosis will not easy--it will take time to find the right medication and coping mechanisms--but life with bipolar 2 can still be good and even great at times despite the dark days. And the darker days become fewer and less debilitating as time goes on.