Interview by Carey-Lee Dixon
I am thrilled to highlight Witted Roots and the woman behind the mental and emotional wellness platform for millennial Jamaican women, Shanice Douglas. The platform was designed with the aim to educate, inspire and guide millennial women along a journey of self-discovery and self-appreciation.
Back in 2015, I experienced a rut in my personal and career life - where I felt stuck with no guided direction. I was overwhelmed by work stress, a toxic workplace and navigating my life as a 20-something-year-old - that period in life which was new to me empowered me to dig deep and find creative ways to deal with stress and anxiety through guided meditation and self-discovery. While overcoming that point in life wasn't the easiest, not many women know where to turn and how to deal with stress, depression or anxiety, that's why Witted Roots is important.
Shanice shares struggle with depression and anxiety, "For a long time, I was not sure how to pinpoint what it was that I was experiencing. A major catalyst for me was migrating to the United States as a teenager. A heavy dose of family dysfunction, mixed with a heaping of homesickness led to a whirlwind of an experience, which included long-term insomnia, a confusing relationship with food, and a deteriorating relationship with my mother."
Her own struggle and story inspired the Witted Rooted, which is the safe space for women to share their stories, discover themselves and find help.
I was honoured to participate in Rooted, the docu-series to share my own story on mental health and navigating challenges; the series goes live in the coming months. Until then, check out my interview with Shanice who delved into why she started Witted Roots and her hopes for helping women to pay attention their mental health .
What exactly is the Witted Roots project, what inspired you to start it and why now?
Witted Roots is a mental and emotional wellness platform for millennial Jamaican women. The platform exists to educate, inspire, and guide millennial women along a journey of self-discovery and self-appreciation. We’re currently in the very early stages (we just launched our website) of existence.
We aim to incorporate both digital (articles/videos) and in-person resources to help young women in Jamaica (and the Diaspora) become more knowledgeable about mental health in general, as well as to actively encourage them to develop their own strategies to ensure their optimal psychological wellness.
Witted Roots was borne from an intersection of a passion and a purpose for empowering millennial Jamaican women with the tools, resources, and information necessary to leverage the roots of their psychological foundation as a platform for a more fulfilling life experience. When I sought out resources myself for many years, it was frustrating to find that there were virtually none that I could connect with that had someone that looked and sounded like me, with a similar cultural background. There was an gap and I was intent on filling it.
Rooted is our flagship docu-series project that facilitates a safe space for Jamaican women to share their mental and emotional health experiences. It encourages the sharing of stories in the first place, while giving “everyday” Jamaican women the opportunity to see themselves represented in dynamic conversations about holistic wellness.
I was inspired to produce this docu-series as a medium to spread the message that all stories and all voices are valid. Actually seeing and hearing that someone else, who looks and sounds like you, has experienced a similar situation, can make the difference between complete isolation and the first step for help. and we hope to use this platform to continually encourage that.
How has your own experience or women around you inspired you to start this project?
I have struggled with depression and anxiety for a number of years. For a long time, I was not sure how to pinpoint what it was that I was experiencing. A major catalyst for me was migrating to the United States as a teenager. A heavy dose of family dysfunction, mixed with a heaping of homesickness led to a whirlwind of an experience, which included long-term insomnia, a confusing relationship with food, and a deteriorating relationship with my mother. Needless to say, Witted Roots is the safe space that, at my lowest points, I never knew I needed.
I felt misunderstood and unsupported, and as I delved deeper into studying psychology (both my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees are based in psychology, health, and behavior), it began to dawn on me that there are innumerable cultural hangups that exist surrounding mental health. There continues to be so many misconceptions about what mental health actually is, how it can manifest itself into an individual’s life in any number of ways, and what the options are for actually getting help.
There are so many perspectives about mental health, some misunderstood. How do you aim to empower women be invested in taking care of themselves both mentally and physically?
Mental health is just as important as physical health, and it is a sad reality that there is a severe lack in that consideration. We are inclined to create new year’s resolution about physical fitness, yet, it rarely dawns on us to include mental and emotional wellness on that list.
With practical information meant to educate, along with actionable strategies suggested for actually navigating the psychological experience, I aim to arm as many young women as possible with the tools necessary to take control of their own wellness trajectory.
To be honest, I find that one of the largest barriers to making a positive change to how you experience your mental health, is not knowing what mental health or emotional wellness even means. What is stress, and how can I know that I am functioning under a relatively healthy amount? Are those heart palpitations that I feel before every presentation normal or healthy? How can I manage it?
How do you hope this (Rooted: Docu-Series) series will teach 20-30-something-year-old women about handling stress and dealing with depression?
We have so many things that we are faced with daily (stress, anxiety, and depression being common examples), and we normalize it as just another ‘thing’ that we have to deal with. We tell ourselves that it’s no big deal that every morning you wake up with a tight chest that becomes worse the closer you get to your workplace, because we don’t know how to acknowledge it as an issue that can be treated. We are often not aware just how much our mental health plays a role in how we navigate our spaces and our interactions with others.
With the interviews from the on-going Rooted docu-series, I hope to create that safe space where there CAN be dialogue about mental and emotional experiences, how we experience them, why we experience them, and learn how others have been able to alleviate the negative effects on their lives.
How important is it for women to take breaks when working in a toxic or demanding work environment?
A topic that I will cover through the Witted Roots platform in a variety of ways is toxicity, and how that can manifest within a variety of ways in our lives. We hear about toxins in our food, but less so about how ‘toxic’ can be people and places that we interact with on a regular basis. From chronic stress to crippling anxiety, it’s not uncommon for many young women to feel drained just thinking about the work week ahead on a Sunday night.
Let's talk about the importance of having a strong support system. How can women get support or help when dealing with a challenging time whether it is in their personal lives or careers?
Support systems can be the bedrock of success in career, or fulfillment in your personal lives. While it is important to ensure that you have a solid foothold within your own experiences, and have a level of confidence in how you can navigate it best, it never hurts to have at least one other person that can give you that figurative push, especially during the inevitable moments of exhaustion.
It takes some initiative, but it is ultimately worth it to seek out spaces where you feel safe to vent, rumble, and re-group, armed with strategies to better position your experience going forward.
Social media can be a den of negativity at times, but the potential for connection with others that are genuinely interested in helping you to feel safe within your experiences. @JaMHAN, for example, can be a great starting point to finding further resources.
Unfortunately, the reality is that many cannot afford to maintain therapy sessions, which can be a major drawback. There are a number of options that can be found online, via apps, that are free and/or affordable, and can provide you with a stepping stone to better handling any number of challenging experiences. For example:
- talkSPACE is an app-based therapy platform that is relatively affordable weekly, and allows you the opportunity to have convenient interactions with professionals who can lead you down a path to healing.
- 7cups.com is also a resource that I have been acquainted with myself, both as a visitor and a Listener, and I can vouch for the in-depth training. They also provide references for therapists, and other mental health professionals.
- Calm is a meditation app that makes it easy for you to give yourself a few minutes to just focus on your breath, and be aware of your body.
Support groups are also another great option. While they are not currently a regular, widely-accepted fixture in our culture, I do anticipate that many such spaces will soon begin to take shape (including via Witted Roots).
Describe one of the most inspiring or touching responses from the project
The Rooted series has allowed me to facilitate the sharing of stories of so many witty, intelligent, and overall beautiful women, and all their stories, while inherently unique, shared a thread of powerfulness that continues to be awe-inspiring.
One particular story shared, re-told an instance where family and friends came together as a unit to provide a space for healing, without judgment, and borne from a genuine love and concern for the individual’s long-term well-being. Not many individuals that have negative psychological experiences can say that they felt supported by their loved ones, and this story was definitely worthy to note.