Below is the transcript of an email interview I had with Project UROK founder Jenny Jaffe, where we discuss the history of the project as well as the misconceptions around mental illness and how people can help themselves by getting involved with Project UROK.
- Tell us about a little bit about yourself.
I was born in California, moved to New York 8 years ago to attend NYU and I never left! I’m a writer, comedian, performer, and activist!
- Why did you decide to start Project UROK? Where did the name come from?
I started Project UROK in late 2014 after the reaction to an article I wrote for xoJane about my experience in exposure therapy for OCD really surprised me. People kept reaching out to me and telling me that they’d been through similar things, and thought they had been the only one– at the time I’d felt the same way, and I was surprised no one had created any dedicated online communities to alleviate that feeling of isolation. The name– I don’t really know honestly! It popped into my head and made sense. I call it “You Are Okay” but I’ve heard people call it “You Rock”, and I like that it’s a positive message either way.
- What would you say are some of the misconceptions and problems with mental illness today? For example, it seems that almost every time there is a mass shooting, people start saying the shooter was mentally ill. How does that time of dialogue harm people?
The biggest misconception is that there is something inherently different between mental illness and physical illness. The only difference is the amount of stigma that surrounds it. The reality is that, statistically, people with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators of this, and when mental illness is used as an excuse for violence it only serves to further stigmatize mental illness and its treatment.
- I find it interesting (and good) that you are focusing on the teenage/young adult population. What are the specific reasons for having that target audience?
For teens, the stigma can be even more painful, since teenagers are already prone to believing that they are the only ones experiencing whatever it is they are experiencing. They also can be limited in their treatment options, especially if their parents don’t believe in seeking treatment for mental illness. I also think this generation of teenagers are especially receptive to socially progressive ideas– like the idea that mental illness isn’t something to be ashamed of, which, compared to how it’s been treated in previous generations, is a pretty radical notion.
- Expand upon the idea of depression. Some people assume that it’s simply a person being sad all of the time.
A lot of people with depression dismiss the idea that they have it because it doesn’t look like it does in black and white depression commercials. Depression manifests in all different ways. A lot of people report feeling numb– I thought the way they portrayed it in the movie Inside Out, with all of the emotions freezing over, was really smart. But the reality is depression can manifest in all different ways, and different people find different ways of coping with it effective. There’s no one size fits all version of depression, and no one size fits all treatment.
- To deal with mental illness, therapy is regularly recommended, however what are some options for those who are unable to do therapy? (It seems, contextually, that UROK implies some potential alternatives as one of the goals on the site is creating an online community.)
I mean, the ideal is to live in a world where mental illness is so destigmatized, its treatment is made readily available to anyone who’d like to seek it. But for now it is, unfortunately, really difficult for most people to find accessible, affordable therapy. We have resources on our website to help people find cheap and free therapy options. There are also free hotlines and text chat lines listed there, which can help people figure out their available treatment options.
- How can people follow and support Project UROK?
We’re on pretty much all social media as @ProjectUROK, and our website is www.projecturok.org! We’re always looking for people who would be interested in making videos– and of course, if donating is an option, we are a nonprofit and we accept tax deductible donations!