(NEW YORK) — Search on Instagram for “Ask Dr. Jess” and you’ll find Dr. Jessica Clemons, a New York City-based psychiatrist who has more than 55,000 followers.Her social media has been one of her biggest tools to help reduce stigma associated with mental illness, specifically in the black community — and now even Beyonce approves.Clemons has gained recognition for her online platform, where she creates conversation to help people better understand mental health.She hosts a weekly “Live Q/A Session” session on Instagram every Saturday and Sunday where she invites people online to ask questions, both publicly and anonymously, about everything from anxiety, trauma, self-love and more.Her platform for good caught the attention of “Queen Bey” in February 2019, when she praised Clemons as a woman “who exemplifies Black excellence” in her “We Good” series for Black History Month.”To have my image there [on her website] was so beyond surprise and excitement,” Clemons said.Her work on social media also has been praised by peers, who invited her to present at the American Psychiatric Association about using “social media as a tool to educate and advocate.””We’re in a really interesting time where social media can build community,” she said.
Mental health being ‘taboo’Clemons’ goal to de-stigmatize mental health treatment was inspired by her upbringing.”I grew up in the South, I’m also a part of the black community and, historically, we haven’t really had a lot of conversations around mental illness for both of those reasons,” Clemons told ABC News’ Good Morning America. “We really think a lot about church and how that can be an area where people can talk about their problems, and then also in the black community, [mental health is] also very taboo.”According to a 2014 survey by the United States Office of Minority Health, only 9.4 percent of non-Hispanic black adults received mental health treatment or counseling, compared to 18.8 percent of non-Hispanic white adults.Clemons explained that one of the many reasons there’s a stigma around mental health in the black community is that if someone can’t deal with issues in church “then the thought is that you don’t have enough faith or you’re not giving it over to the church enough.””It becomes an issue of what is most important,” she said.She shared that for these reasons, she didn’t have a lot of conversations about mental illness growing up in her community, but in her household, everyone was “open about their feelings.””I think that allowed me to feel very comfortable with the other aspects of mental health, which is being comfortable talking about emotions,” Clemons shared.
Using social media to tell the storyClemons received her medical degree from Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University, where she realized she wanted to become a psychiatrist with a focus on mental illness.”I found myself using social media to tell the story and the journey, and people were asking me questions about anxiety and depression,” she shared.She has been completing her residency with training at a New York University-based program and her work mainly involves providing clinical care.More people have come to know Dr. Jess, however, from her televised therapy session on VH1, In Session Live With Dr. Jess, and her speaker series, “#BeWell.”For “#BeWell,” Clemons invited artists such as A$AP Ferg and two-time Grammy nominee Rapsody to help normalize conversations about mental health and wellness.”What I found is that it helps you invite people to have more conversations about mental health and if we’re able to be open about what we’re feeling and experiencing, that also creates opportunities to acknowledge that help is needed,” Clemons said.”My hope is that this is doing part of that role to reduce stigma in populations that would really not consider mental health treatment,” she added.
Five commonly asked questions about mental health and treatmentFor Mental Health Awareness Month, Clemons shared five questions and concerns regarding mental illness and treatment that she’s frequently asked:1. What is the difference between a psychiatrist, psychologist and therapist?“I’m a psychiatrist, which is a medical doctor who has done additional training or specialized training in the form of psychiatry,” Clemons explained. “A psychologist is a doctor who has a Ph.D. and they’ve done additional clinical training to treat patients as well.””What’s interesting is that the main difference is that a psychiatrist is the type of doctor that prescribes medication,” she said. “But both the psychiatrist and the psychologist can practice as therapists, so I think it’s really important to think about what your issues may be, and go in and see from there what kind of specialist would be best for you. Is it a medication need or a need for therapy?”2. Therapy is so expensive. How can I afford it?“When we think about the historical process of going to therapy, [it] can be very expensive,” Clemons said. “I think what’s important to think about is resources people have access to, which is through the internet and using the internet to find places like federally funded health clinics, which often do have psychiatrists who can see you for a reduced fee and also accept some form of insurance like Medicaid or Medicare.”She also noted that a lot of insurances do reimburse patients for services.”They may not reimburse for the entire fee, but they certainly do give a certain number of dollars back,” she said.3. I prefer a therapist from the same background. Should I consider therapists from different background?“Background can mean anything from gender to race to sexuality, and I want to point out that that places the individual at a limitation,” Clemons shared. “It is very difficult to find a therapist that has almost everything similar to yourself.”Instead, Clemons stressed the importance of looking for a therapist who is “empathetic and who you feel like understands you and is listening.””Keep your options open,” she said.4. How can I support a loved one who has a mental illness?“What I often tell people is, it’s so helpful to be a listener,” Clemons shared. “I think, oftentimes, we forget how moving that can be if your loved one comes to you and they’re having a difficult time. Just pull up a chair, listen.””You don’t have to focus on solving the issue, but certainly encourage them to continue the treatment that they’re in and create a space where they can talk about their emotions,” she said.5. What are ways to cope with symptoms of anxiety?Clemons shared that one way to cope with symptoms of anxiety — which, she specified, is not a form of treatment and to seek professional help — is to practice mindfulness.”Mindfulness you can do anywhere,” Clemons shared. “It’s where you take the moment to allow all of your senses to come into play.””You can do that while eating a piece of fruit, like an orange, and really pay attention to every detail of that orange down to how it smells, feels and tastes,” she said. “What that will do is help you get out of your own head and into the moment.”She also advocates for practicing things like yoga, meditation and all things “that can help you to center yourself.”One thing Dr. Jess wants people to know about mental health: “If you are thinking about ‘I’m wondering if I need to seek out help for an issue that’s affecting your mental health,’ I would encourage you to do so.” Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.