There’s much to be said about our social media habits. While some consider it a waste of time, others see it as a way to build community with like-minded individuals. It’s the latter that intrigues Dr. Jessica Clemons, affectionally called Dr. Jess by many of her 13K followers. This psychiatrist, a medical doctor who diagnoses and treats mental illness, uses her platform to not only shine a light on the brilliant work she’s doing but more importantly to connect her followers with each other and create a safe digital space for Black people to learn, grow and #BeWell.
Like most journeys, Clemons has had an interesting one. The Alabama-native went to Cornell medical school with the intention of becoming a surgeon. However, that all changed during a rotation in psychiatry. “I saw the impact depression can have on a person’s life… I noticed if someone is suffering mentally, it becomes difficult, and sometimes impossible, to take care of themselves,” she tells ESSENCE. It was then that Clemons decided to use her gifts to build strong connections to meet people where they are. Now as a psychiatrist she’s able to help people get back to or improve their lives while also and normalizing mental health, especially in the Black community. “Historically, we have primarily interfaced with mental health against our will resulting in this stereotype that only ‘crazy people’see a psychiatrist,” Clemons shares. The lack of access and resources (i.e. time and/or money) has prevented many Black people from properly addressing and finding healthy ways to handle things like depression and anxiety. However, when left untreated mental suffering can have serious negative implications. For this reason, which is why Dr. Clemons believes almost everyone should consult with a mental health professional at some point in their life. “We know that undergoing therapy can treat anxiety and depression but it also gives you a safe, non-judgmental space to work out issues. Think of therapy as a way to master yourself,” she says. Of course, it’s impossible to deny that therapy is still costly for many individuals. With sessions costing as much as $300 per hour, a weekly commitment is simply unattainable for a large segment of our community. Realizing this, Clemons began using Instagram (a free social media platform) to explore various mental health topics and connect with individuals who may have never thought about seeking mental treatment.
“Currently, every Saturday or Sunday at 12 p.m. EST, I host ‘Ask Dr. Jess’ on Instagram Live where I breakdown topics surrounding mental wellness and answer questions,” she says. What’s most amazing is that community members are able to share in the learning together, unlike traditional therapy sessions.
During each Live Dr. Clemons answers questions in real time and makes it a point to connect individuals with similar interests. “I’ve learned my work has helped many people seek help, feel comfortable with accepting help, and passing along vital information to those they care about,” she says.
In addition to creating a safe space for us online, Clemons is currently creating that same environment for us offline through her initiatives like Serving Myself, a Self-Empowerment Workshop and, most recently, #BeWell, a conversation series with some fascinating people, including Grammy-nominated artist, Rapsody.
What’s abundantly clear is that Clemons is committed to meeting people where they are, whether this is online, at one of her events or as a patient. More than anything she wants Black women to see mental health as an integral part of their overall well-being.
“I want to remind people to prioritize all aspects of their health by practicing self-care, taking ownership for emotional issues that negatively affect their lives,” Clemons says, “and shifting their mindsets from a passive way of engaging in life to an active one.”