For a long time, conversations around mental illness have been shrouded in stigma and shame. But recently, things have started to change, and we’re having more open discussions about anxiety and depression at every level. Today there are countless platforms and communities dedicated to discussing mental health, from MIND, a charity dedicated to supporting anyone grappling with mental health issues, to LGBTQ+ platform Mermaids, helping trans and gender-diverse youths.
Being transparent and honest (by no means an easy task) about how we are coping mentally is crucial to dismantling archaic attitudes surrounding the issue. So, in order to help further the conversation, Vogue spoke to 16 models, designers and creatives about their mental health journeys and how they practise self-care, from Marc Jacobs’ longtime collaborator and designer Ava Nirui and activist Munroe Bergdorf to models Dilone and Slick Woods.
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Slick Woods, model and actor
“Self-care has an endless definition for me. It could be adjusting boundaries with relationships or even with yourself to establish what you feel is healthy. It could be just watering your flowers, cleaning the house, taking a long bath, or wearing your favourite shoes. Early in developing my relationship with mental health, I obsessed over ways to fix myself, become normal, and ‘behave’. Now my relationship with my mental health is more like a marriage, it’s about compromise. I allow myself to feel it when I’m overwhelmed and trust myself to come out through the end of the tunnel.”
Harris Reed, designer championing gender fluidity
“I can get so creatively charged when designing, running around with sequins, sewing and answering emails and calls—I start feeling myself shake and feel anxiety creeping in. I’ve struggled a lot of my life and, to this day, I get anxiety and panic attacks. My relationship [with mental health] has got better as I’ve learned to cope with it, which means meditating in the morning for 10 minutes. It’s about being able to disconnect and identify when I need to give myself a bit of love.”
Kai-Isaiah Jamal, poet, visibility activist and model
“Practising self-love means doing something that evokes a positive emotion in yourself, whether that be via meditation, affirmation, respite or any other way of sparking joy, serenity or healing for yourself and yourself only.
“When my mind is good, it’s the most exciting, special and wondrous place to roam. When it’s bad, it’s the worst. Writing, especially journaling, is an outlet I use a lot, walking too. Movement calms my mind and I surround myself with tangible things that touch all my senses. A small cry here and there is normal and we shouldn’t be ashamed—I’m getting more comfortable with tears. Therapy is a must too, it’s the kindest thing for you and those around you.”
Dilone, model and actress
“Catering to myself in the most compassionate and non-judgmental way is an act of self-care. I took six months off from work because I was having bad panic attacks and wasn’t able to show up with depression and suicidal thoughts creeping in. I was on medication and was misdiagnosed a few times, I even had an allergic reaction to one drug that nearly developed into Steven-Johnson syndrome [a serious skin disorder].
“Medication didn’t heal me: it helped me function so I could heal myself with help—whether that be by drinking a glass of water, meditating, practising kundalini [a form of yoga], going for a run, taking a bath, sleeping—so much of my anxiety goes away with a few days of proper rest. Today, I am off medication with the understanding that I could go back on it, and I am OK with that.”
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Jasmine Sanders, model
“When I’m feeling anxious or overwhelmed, I’ll step outside and work on my breathing exercises and meditation. Listening to Whitney Houston or gospel music helps me as well during a challenging moment. Self-care means making sure that you take time for yourself — it’s the only way you can be your best and most authentic self.”
Ava Nirui, designer and Marc Jacobs special projects director
“Keeping a small group of loyal friends, meditation, and realising that vulnerability doesn’t make you any weaker or less ‘cool’ has helped me. I’ve suffered from anxiety my whole life and as an adult, this feeling is accelerated and exacerbated by technology. There is a dark side to social media that we all feel.
“I had this realisation one day when I found myself analysing a photo for days on end I was planning to post on Instagram —this obsession and fear was not healthy or sustainable. I feel much happier being less active online.”
Louisa Ballou, swimwear and ready-to-wear designer
“It’s important to have the tools to deal with anything that comes up because something always will. It’s not about feeling 100 per cent all of the time, but rather recognising when you don’t, having the strategies to address it, and knowing when to ask for help.
“Stepping back and observing myself objectively is the most important self-care skill I’ve learned and something I return to when feeling overwhelmed. Creating that distance from the intensity of the moment allows you to assess the situation with clarity and a sense of calm.”
Jazzelle Zanaughtti (@uglyworldwide), model
“Self-care means pause, breathe and taking a moment of stillness to assess what I need and what makes me happy—and then doing it. I have struggled with clinical depression and anxiety my whole life. I try to ride the emotions out when I’m overwhelmed and feel them in their entirety, and then convince myself that I am deserving of love and happiness. I cope by keeping hope that things will look up eventually—I try to remind myself of that in my darkest moments.
Munroe Bergdorf, model and activist
“Self-care is a continuous process of recognising patterns in my behaviour that signify a need to pull back and identify what I need to push forward. It’s doing whatever makes me happy—such as spending some much-needed downtime with my pets—with a view to healing rather than distracting myself.
“I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety aged 18 after experiencing years of bullying. So, I’ve always been aware of how important it is to work at my mental health. I see it as another muscle that I have to exercise and check in on. Being vocal about how I’m feeling helps me get out of my own head—more often than not, you’ll find that you’re not the only one who feels the way you do.”
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Alton Mason, model
“Self-care is the practice of self-love, forgiveness, healing and spirituality. Allowing yourself to fail, grow and evolve. I’ve always struggled with mental health and anxiety since high school. I had to go deep within to free myself of past trauma and oppression; I’m still figuring it out. But I know ever since I made the choice to grow and evolve mentally, I’ve attracted love, liberation, and people who mean so much to me.”
Iris Law, model
“It’s really important to make your home feel like a sacred place. I like finding a ritualistic and calming side to every day, so I’ll often cook with my boyfriend and I have a beautiful diffuser that my auntie got me, which has different essential oils. It makes my room smell lovely before going to bed. Also, I have different loose-leaf teas from a variety of places.”
Saul Nash, menswear designer and dancer
“I often have felt as though dance and family have helped to keep me balanced. Self-care for me is disconnecting from all of the things that usually take your attention and having a moment to focus on yourself and tune in to how you’re truly feeling—particularly in times where you may be overwhelmed by everything around you. Every difficulty has a solution, so at the time it feels like a mountain, but the next day I realise it is often not as bad as it first seemed.”
Aweng Chuol, model
“To me, self-care means taking care of my mind. Lately, I’ve been concentrating on my passions and hobbies, going back to sketching and writing poetry. Learning to enjoy time alone, watching films, reading a book.
“My relationship with mental health is a rollercoaster. Some days I’m unstoppable and other days I’ve been stopped—not by anything other than my mind fighting against me. To cope, when I’m overwhelmed, I’ve been strictly writing my emotions out. Also, therapy is important, alongside bike riding.”
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Maxim Magnus, trans model and activist
“Self-care, to me, is taking care of myself all the time, not just in those moments when I’m feeling down. It’s an investment and takes time to find what works for you and what is necessary to make you feel at peace. It comes in many ways, from drinking an oat-milk latte to taking a hot bath. I would say the biggest thing for me is being comfortable on my own.
“I write down a lot of my affirmations and what I want to achieve in my personal and professional life—this later helps me identify my needs and wants in life. I don’t think there is a perfect recipe to cope with your mental health—it’s a different path for everyone.”’
Mimi Wade, womenswear designer
“It’s hard to maintain a good work-life balance, especially when you work for yourself, and achieving that balance is the ultimate goal and a huge act of self-care. I’ve struggled with mental health, like so many others, for years. I find accepting that some days you won’t feel OK and that that is OK has been semi-liberating. Being kind to yourself is crucial—listen to your inner dialogue and make sure you’re not beating yourself up too much.”
Jordan Barrett, model
“Self-care is about looking after yourself mentally and physically. I sometimes get bad anxiety—taking cold showers or running both help as they get the endorphins and adrenaline going, which clears the mind and keeps me feeling fresh.”