Model-activist Adwoa Aboah wants her online platform “Gurls Talk,” addressing issues of mental health and sexuality, to be in schools.
“There’s still so much stigma, and I think there’s little understanding, of what it is to feel like you can’t get out of bed in the morning. To feel like the world is gray and that there’s nothing to live for” she says.
“We should be educated from a young age about mental health. About what it looks like. About what to if your friends are going through certain situations.”
“Gurls Talk” started with Aboah sharing her story in 2015 after a failed suicide attempt. She talked openly and honestly about her struggles with mental health, bipolar disorder and addiction.
“Obviously there were people that school sent in, who spoke about having protected sex and, you know, there were all different types of things. But there was such a massive age gap. There were these people that were coming in I couldn’t relate to. They didn’t speak from experience. They said, ‘Don’t do that,’ not, ‘This is what I did, and this is how I got through it.’
“What I’ve created is a space, a safe space, in which everything is – you can talk about anything you want. Whether it be the divorce of your parents, your period, hormones, boyfriends, sex, mental health, everything. Nothing is too taboo.”
Her community now spans some 160,000 people online and she’s held events in London, Los Angeles and Mexico. On Sunday, she will hold one in New York.
But Aboah insists her community is not just for girls, she’s adamant boys need to be part of the conversation. Sunday’s one-day event in Brooklyn, which is free and open to anyone, will be the first time there are mental health workshops specifically for men. One workshop will focus on sexual abuse and sexual assault from the male perspective.
“It’s open to everyone. We have created a space like if you were sitting in your best friend’s bedroom. There are girls and boys, and mums and dads, and everyone sits together and you can do chanting on Sunday.”
Alongside workshops addressing sexual health and self-expression through poetry jams and art, there will also be workshops on race.
“I definitely think if we overlooked race when we’re talking about mental health and certain things that girls are going through, I don’t know if that would be fair… We have all different types of girls that are part of ‘Gurls Talk.’ So I want to make sure that everyone has something that they can relate to.”
The daughter of a Ghanaian father and British mother, Aboah grew up in London. Despite a wealthy upbringing, she struggled with self-identity, depression and anxiety.
“When I first kind of started feeling like I did, I was like ‘Oh, but I go on amazing holidays, and I have two amazing parents, and a sister. My parents sent me to an amazing school.’ But, what I learned from going to as many treatment centers as I had to in the end, that it was all relative. And in that moment, I was sat with people of all different ages who’d been through all different sorts of circumstances. But in that moment, in that space, in that room, we all felt sad. We all felt that we needed help and we were all able to relate to that feeling and that emotion.”
While she acknowledges that the modeling industry can be part of the problem in creating an unattainable image for young girls to aspire too, she says it’s never specifically been the cause of her own issues.
“There are times when you’re being judged on your appearance and you’re not feeling your best self. It hurts, but as I always say, I try and be 100 percent myself all the time. So if I’m rejected it just hurts that little bit less because at least I was myself. I spent so long trying to be other people and it made me really deeply unhappy.”
Asked what advice she would give her 16-year old self, she says: “I would tell myself there’s light at the end of the tunnel, Adwoa. Things look scary but there will be a day where you wake up and you feel less scared, more confident, and you will love yourself. So just keep at it.”