Nearly half of adults in the U.S. will develop a mental illness in their lifetime – millions of people, often suffering in silence because of the stigma that exists around mental health.
It’s a shame and secrecy familiar to Indhira Rojas, the California-based dominicana behind a new magazine that aims to destigmatize mental illness through story-telling called Anxy.
In her early 30s, years after the visual and interaction designer left her hometown of Santo Domingo to study art in the U.S., Rojas was diagnosed with complex PTSD and generalized anxiety disorder, both stemming from the trauma of childhood abuse.
She has spent much of her time since understanding how trauma, felt individually or as a collective, can lead to mental health issues, recognizing her triggers, spotting problematic coping mechanisms, seeking help through support groups and open conversations and realizing quickly that the latter is frowned upon in our culture.
“The biggest challenge, I think, is feeling isolated, thinking, why did this happen to me?” Rojas told us. “You don’t realize others are experiencing this as well.”
Hoping to break the stigma and change the hush-hush ways we talk (or don’t talk) about mental illness, Rojas put together a team of seasoned professionals in publishing and experts, whether through lived experiences or journalistic reporting, in mental health to create Anxy, a print magazine.
“There are communities that exist for mental health, but they’re on the outside, the exterior. I want these conversations, these experiences, these people to be a part of our everyday lives, not in secret and not in underground groups,” she said.
The 33-year-old Latina spoke with us about the need for the publication, what readers can expect from it and why Latinxs should care and support Anxy through its Kickstarter campaign.
Tell us about Anxy.
Anxy started as an idea I had after working at the intersections of publishing, technology and design, including branding and storytelling, for years. I was looking for a project I could dive into and care about. Last year, when I was navigating my personal life, I found that mental health was something I wished I had more open conversations about and that it wasn’t so difficult to bring these topics up with friends and colleagues. There is so much shame in having trauma and living with a mental illness, and I want to change that. To do so, I think we need to change the cultural narrative, which is what I hope to do with Anxy.
Why is a magazine like Anxy necessary?
I’ve been thinking a lot about cultural norms and what we say is OK and not OK in how we behave in society. When we shift cultural norms we can create a different narrative that makes the behavioral changes we want to see around the topic of mental health. For us, Anxy is about what it means to be human and accepting that trauma and mental illness is a part of our human experience. It’s going to happen, whether it happens to you as an individual or because you’re a part of a collective. For example, people of color face a lot of violence, particularly now from the police. That impacts the entire group. We need to have these conversations and make them OK to have and be open to recognizing that all of these experiences affect people in different aspects of their lives. A lot of us want to leave that stuff at home and put on our armor when we walk out the door. But what if we didn’t need that armor anymore because we understood that mental illness was part of the human experience?
You write, “This isn’t your therapist’s scientific journal. This isn’t some self-help manual. And we aren’t telling you how to ‘fix’ an issue. We are Anxy.” How is Anxy different from these publications you allude to?
I think what we’ve seen is a lot of mental health content geared toward solving the problem. A lot of us, including myself, are fixers, and while I do think we need the tools to learn how to slow down and regulate, we also need the narratives. That’s Anxy: personal stories first. There is so much we can learn through each other, through narratives and sharing our experiences. We want to show how trauma works, how it affects our mind and our body’s ability to self-regulate.
What sorts of stories will we find in Anxy and how will they be told?
There will be first-person narratives, reported articles, interviews, opinions – a combination of everything.
You have an art background. How relevant will art, photos and design be to the publication?
I was going to a woman’s group and my facilitator had art cards and she asked us to pick a card that spoke to us. It’s interesting doing this exercise and seeing what our minds gravitate to and what you take from the art. That’s different from reading a story, watching a movie or listening to a song, so we want to absolutely use art, images, design and creativity. We know that helps people have an outlet for what’s happening in their life, so we are going to make our stories as visual as possible, through layout, photos and illustration. Also, stories are not only told with words. Our magazine will have personal essays and also a bunch of pages of just images that will evoke an image-driven narrative, which is not something we are used to seeing in mental heath publications.
You are the founder and creative director of Anxy. Tell us more about your roles.
My role as the founder would be to help create the vision and as creative director to help facilitate the form factor and creating the Anxy brand.
Will Anxy only exist as a print publication?
We’ve gotten so many people sending us pitches, and the magazine is not even real yet, so there’s a huge opportunity to have content that goes beyond print. We are seeing digital as a complimentary presence, one where our website isn’t publishing new content every day but rather where powerful evergreen stories will live. We will definitely be on social and see a newsletter being a big component of our digital presence as well.
Will there be content in Spanish?
I want Anxy to be global and far-reaching, and so I would aim for Anxy to be translated in Spanish. One of my frustrations since reading a lot of mental health books in the theory realm is wanting to find them in Spanish so I could share them with my family, but it’s nowhere to be found. We need mental health education tailored toward Spanish-speaking audiences, and it doesn’t really exist, and I’m hoping if Anxy is successful that we can help do that.
How do you think Anxy can help destigmatize mental illness?
My answer will be shaped through my experience. For me, what fascinated me about the effects of trauma in my life was learning that there are a lot of things that happen during your developmental years that affect the development of your brain, or how your body regulates stress. What I hope happens is that we will be more educated on the impact of the experiences and are able to talk about them. For me, removing the stigma is being able to say, “hey, this difficult thing is happening,” rather than hiding it. It’s being able to talk about it so that we can reduce the unnecessary pain.
What do you hope readers will get from Anxy?
That mental illness is more common than we think and that the best we can do together is be compassionate with each other and tell our stories. One of my worries is Anxy will be a magazine where when you read it you cry. Last night, I was at a concert where women were rocking out and I thought, that’s Anxy right there. We can experience art that helps us process and manage life, and I think that we can come together in that way.
What do you want Latinx folks to understand about mental health, particularly as it relates to our community?
I think the biggest challenge for me is that we don’t have a collective self-awareness about the impact life experiences have on our mental health. For me, it’s about starting to have those conversations to create those connections that we have a choice. When I was young, I thought that I was just a super passionate person with a strong temperament, and, yes, that is part of me, but part of that is also a response to trauma. There’s choice around that.
Why must Latinx folks support this magazine through your Kickstarter campaign?
The main reason is because, hey, I’m Latina, too. Wouldn’t it be awesome to see us represented here? But also because this really impacts us. It’s so taboo to have these conversations in our countries and among our families, so we have a lot to benefit from hearing these stories and destigmatizing mental illness.
Anxy's Kickstarter campaign ends soon, so make sure to support today!