Gabrielle Magid speaks with a smile in her voice–with understanding and grace. She laughs at herself, and is candid when sharing her beliefs. She’s a master at talking about the hard stuff.

No surprise there, really: encouraging people to talk has become Magid’s life’s work. As the founder of the millennial-focused mental health nonprofit Stronger than Stigma, Magid’s been supporting, empowering, and inspiring Millennials since before she even had a college degree in hand (she started the org while still a student at UNF). 

In recent years, there’s been a reckoning on mental health in America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 17% of adults in this country are considered to be in a state of optimal mental health.

Are millennials the first generation to struggle with mental health? The answer is no. But if Magid has her way, millennials will certainly have a heightened awareness of and increased comfort in speaking about their own mental health struggles. 

We caught up with Magid for a conversation that was predictably both frank and easygoing. 

The name of your organization includes one of the main issues that you are working to combat, and that’s stigma. How would you define stigma as it relates to your nonprofit? 

Our movement is all about voicing the fact that the status quo for mental health is that we should be ashamed of it, that we shouldn’t talk about it. Anyone who struggles is “crazy.” We’re Stronger than Stigma because we’re able to call that out as a stigma.

So how would you say that Stronger than Stigma is different from other mental health organizations? 

I call us a “for us by us” social movement because we’re dedicated to mental health advocacy for millennials. I always say it–our grandparents denying mental health was a thing. Our parents snuck off to therapy. Now millennials are recognizing that there was inherent shame in dealing with it. Now they’re coming forward and saying we could help each other through this. 

If we’re becoming increasingly accepting, what would your hope be for the next generation? 

I joke that I want to work myself out of a job. We’re at that pivotal age where we’re cool kids and we’re telling you to embrace talking about mental health. So the goal is that the younger generation is looking at us. I hope one day I meet somebody who says, “What’s stigma? Therapy is my extracurricular activity…why did you ever feel embarrassed to go to therapy?” That’s my dream. 

I hope one day I meet somebody who says, “What’s stigma? Therapy is my extracurricular activity…why did you ever feel embarrassed to go to therapy?” || Photo: Parsons

So how has Stronger than Stigma developed over the years? 

I had a couple friends that were involved with me and we looked around our campus and realized that there was free access to resources, yet nobody was reaching out for help. In my second semester, a student died by suicide. It was a really public suicide that couldn’t be brushed under the rug. I didn’t know the student, but it was personal in the sense of, “why didn’t I know this kid?” Why wasn’t he in my anxiety and depression support groups? Why wasn’t he getting help? You never get the answers that you crave, but my heart hurt. This can’t happen anymore. That one student is one too many. 

Could you speak a little bit to the inaccurate statistics that we have? 

Everybody walks around quoting: One in four people struggle with a mental health issue at some point in their lifetime. But it’s based on reporting. If I feel the weight of the stigma and choose not to reach out for help, I’m not getting counted. It’s very misleading because it makes it sound like, three out of four people are fine. That’s not true because mental health exists on a spectrum. 

How has Stronger Than Stigma dealt with the pandemic and having people not be able to go into their therapist’s office? 

Last year in May, we created the first ever pop-up shop dedicated to mental health awareness. We called it the Living Room and it was downtown on Laura Street, right in the heart of downtown Jacksonville. It was designed to spark real talk between strangers about everything and nothing, including your mental health. We were set to do round two in Jacksonville in May and everything was lined up, but we had to cancel. We couldn’t gather in the Living Room but we can gather people in their own living rooms respectively. 

I know it’s difficult to know what’s possible as far as events at this point, but looking forward, do you have any plans in the future? What can we expect to see? 

What I’m focused on now is how best to support the quest for racial justice. I’m working on creating partnerships with black organizers, therapists, and professionals to really listen and see how they think we should best approach the situation. I want to be ready for the people that need us most right now and those people are black, are activists, and are really anybody on the frontlines.

These feature originally appeared as in the Influencers column of Void Magazine’s September 2020 issue.