Stronger Than Stigma’s Living Room

Photo: Toni Smailagic of Cre8Jax

Honest conversation can be comfortable

Local 501(c)3 nonprofit Stronger Than Stigma, Inc. is a group of millennials dedicated to mental health advocacy for their generation. Through a grassroots movement, they hope to make the conversation about mental health as comfortable as an exchange between friends and family. Their mission is to use laughter, authentic conversation, and education “so that everyone feels the power of knowing they’re not alone.”  

As stated on their website, “We’re not therapists. We’re not a resource list. We’re not a hotline. We’re millennials with real-life experiences who understand the struggle and know what it’s like to seek treatment.”

Photo: Toni Smailagic of Cre8Jax

The group implemented a vision for a living room conversation, quite literally, in their pop-up Downtown space they called The Living Room™. The Living Room was open for walk-ins and special programming throughout the month of May as part of National Mental Health Awareness Month. Stronger Than Stigma activated an empty storefront on Laura Street, in the urban core, and outfitted it as a home living room intended for honest, communal conversation that’s more than small talk and that “breaks down barriers.” The May programming consisted of casual ticketed events, including live music, comedy, game nights, do-it-yourself crafts, and other activities generally assigned to a home living room. 

Claudia Baker, mother of Stronger Than Stigma Founder and Executive Director Gabrielle Magid, calls The Living Room “proof of a concept,” reporting that the pop-up was extremely successful. Supported through initial funding from The Delores Barr Weaver Fund and HBO®, Magid is entertaining offers to expand the concept locally and even take it nationwide.

Stronger Than Stigma Founder and Exec. Director Gabrielle Magid

“We believe that caring for one’s own mental health can be a more social experience, and if nothing else, a less isolating one,” says Magid. “We’re all coping and looking for connection — so why not hang out and chat in The Living Room?” 

Magic emphasizes their goal “to change public perception around mental health — being open, having honest conversations, and asking for help are all strengths.” The last part is their unofficial mantra: the group hopes to change the perception of asking for help to be considered an act of strength instead of weakness.

The seed for Stronger Than Stigma was planted while Magid was a student at The University of Florida (UF). She noticed that students weren’t taking advantage of free counseling being offered on her college campus and others. When she entered the workforce, she saw the same issues at play — young adults struggling with their mental health alone and in silence due to fear of judgement or lack of resources.  

“Back then, just talking about the subject of mental health was brave,” she says on the website. “Then it became trendy. But we needed more than talk. We needed to connect. We needed action and advocacy.” Thus, Stronger Than Stigma was born and began to grow quickly on college campuses and beyond. The Living Room will likely pop up again and the group strongly encourages everyone to come hang out with each other on the couch. 

Keep up with Stronger Than Stigma’s news and events through social media:

Facebook: @strongerthanstigma; Instagram: @strongerthanstigma; Twitter: @STS_together; website: strongerthanstigma.org.

Author: Arbus

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