Meet Stephanie Carnegie the founder of the non-profit Totality Wellness Inc.
Totality Wellness Inc. is a mental health and wellness organization that focuses on raising awareness on the importance of mental health and end the stigma surrounding mental illness in underserved communities. They encourage self-care as a lifestyle by using a holistic approach to healing and wellness through their programs, workshops, community initiatives, partnerships, and more.
Stephanie Carnegie is a dynamic woman that embodies passion, strength, and tenacity. She is a public speaker and former educator who founded Totality of A Woman (TOAW), in March 2018, to fill a void in the mental health space. Stephanie is a brand manager and the founder of Carnegie PR, a leading public relations and strategic communications firm. Best known in media circles for her early start representing some of hip hop’s prolific emcee’s, she has steadily broadened her scope and went on to serve as the National Communications Advisor for the National Council of Women of the United States at the United Nations.
We caught up with the dynamic Stephanie to talk about all things mental health, and of course her amazing organization: Totality Wellness Inc.
The Knockturnal: So we’re talking about Totality Wellness Inc. It has been an amazing journey, where shall we start?
Stephanie Carnegie: Let’s start from the beginning that we have now transformed, transitioned I should say, this journey has been over two and a half years now. So, we started out as Totality of a Woman because we were focusing specifically on mental health awareness and self-care dealing with women of color. But since then, we have researched and worked in our communities and have come to the realization that mental health, mental illness, and trauma-informed care is needed for the entire community––men, women, and children––and so now we are officially Totality Wellness Inc.
The Knockturnal: When did you realize there was a lack of conversation & self-awareness for mental health in Black and brown communities?
Stephanie Carnegie: Ok so, the minute that I started speaking up about my own personal journey and battle with depression and anxiety. I spent over 12 years working as a music and entertainment publicist and I suffered in silence because working in that industry, and being responsible for public relations campaigns and publicity and branding for entertainers and well-known artists, being able to express freely about the things I was struggling with as far as my mental health just wasn’t something that was embraced, and wasn’t something that was talked about like that. But it began to get to the point that I struggled so much that I had no choice but to share what I was going through. And I got into therapy and got into my own healing journey. And so the minute that I spoke out about what I was dealing with, I found that there was so many other women that were suffering from the same things. And some were suffering from things, you know, even worse and experiencing even more trauma, and having more issues with their mental health and suffering from mental illness. And they were suffering in silence because, in communities of color, stigma is the largest barrier of recovery from mental illness and mental health issues because we’re looked at as being crazy, you know. It’s looked at as maybe something that only white people experience, you know. The Black community is such a resilient people, and so strong, that it just was something that wasn’t talked about like that. But, the minute that I broke my silence about my personal struggles, I finally feel what women all over, from all walks of life, all career fields, that were in pain, that were struggling, that were searching for a safe space for healing and to open up and share their experience and that was the beginning and the launch of what was then Totality of a Woman. We launched in 2018 in partnership with Long Island University, their Brooklyn campus, for women empowerment and self-care [sound breaks out] and that was the beginning of our journey.
The Knockturnal: What made you want to speak out about your own issues with mental health, like what triggered your reaction to wanting to speak out?
Stephanie Carnegie: I was struggling and I was suffering in silence. And, you know, I was in a relationship. I lived with someone and I was suffering in silence and afraid to even express to them what I was going through because I didn’t understand it. And then when it got so bad that I did try to reach out for support and help, again because mental health was such a stigma, the person that I was with didn’t understand what I was going through for whatever reason. Didn’t even really want to understand maybe, you know, because they heard “mental health”, because they heard “depression” and they were afraid because they didn’t want to self-reflect, or just whatever the case may be. I just knew that I didn’t want anyone else to experience the pain that I felt with kind of navigating and trying to understand what I was experiencing alone, you know. And again it was somebody that was in my close tribe and support system who actually is a person that scheduled my very first therapy appointment, you know because she was that aware and present in my life to notice that there were things changing and something was going on. And she took the first step to schedule my therapy appointment and that was the beginning and then when I realized that, that there was healing, you know, there was healing if you were accountable to say like “I don’t want to hurt anymore, I don’t want to be in pain anymore, I don’t want to suffer like this”, that there was healing on the other side of that, and so, I just didn’t want others to suffer, you know, the way that I did. And then in doing my research and finding out how many of us are suffering from things like depression and anxiety, the alarming rate of suicide that takes place in communities of color, I just knew that it was––there was an urgency behind me using my voice to step in and fill a much-needed gap in our communities when it came down to raising awareness when it came down to helping to end the stigma behind mental illness, and also offering support and tools and resources because our communities are impacted the most and then we also have the less, the least rather, access to the resources to heal. And I wanted to be a part of filling that void and helping our communities heal, and that’s why I decided to speak out.
The Knockturnal: What kinds of services are you guys offering to the community? What do you do to end the stigmatization within a community with regard to mental health?
Stephanie Carnegie: Ok, so for the past two and a half years we have provided programming, workshops, and initiatives throughout communities of color, servicing, as I said, men, women, and children. So, we have holistic wellness programs. In particular, our––one of our main wellness initiatives is called “Food, Fitness, and Faith” and it is a holistic wellness program that serves the entire community (men, women, and children) and focusses on introducing healthy lifestyles, in regards to meditation, yoga, fitness, nutrition, and healthy eating because we believe that there is a holistic approach to healing, of dealing with mental health, dealing with trauma-informed care. Communities of color suffer from so much trauma and the effects of trauma that can have long-lasting effects well into adulthood if they’re not addressed. And so, we introduce holistic practices, evidence-based practices, that our communities can use to help them deal with the daily stress with the things that we’re experiencing. You know, remote learning, we’re in the midst of a pandemic. There’s so much social unrest and social inequities that are going on. And so, it’s a tool and that’s become one of our main programs that we’ve pushed to the community. We’ve partnered with Citi Bike to launch a ride for mental health that’s used as exercise as a way to encourage wellness as exercise, as a way of raising awareness around mental health. We have partnered with Thrive NYC, which is an organization that helps people to become certified as mental health first aids. So they had to go to get as many New Yorkers as possible certified. And what that means is they take an 8-hour workshop and it trains them on the signs and symptoms of someone suffering from mental illness or a mental health crisis, the signs and symptoms of someone who may be contemplating suicide, and how to provide support for that person, and that means how to get professional help, like what to do in our communities. So, we’ve done a lot of partnerships and campaigns to raise awareness. We’ve partnered with communities to offer things like healthy eating and healthy nutrition. We just recently did a community event in the midst of families, you know, suffering from financial hardships and things like that––going back to school. So we provided over fifty bags of school supplies for students. We provided over a hundred bags of fresh produce and veggies to families and gave away PPE. You know, encouraging safety and wellness and all of those things and just a day for the community, again, to destress. So, we have definitely spent the past two and a half years being a pillar in the community as far as mental health and as far as wellness is concerned. Right now, I am setting my eyes towards policy and legislation because I have realized by doing the work in the community that the need for support and resources and services is that deep that it’s going to take policy change, it’s going to take bills being passed and legislative change. And so, that’s something that I am working towards as well; being an advocate, advocating for families, advocating for parents, advocating for our communities. And so, yeah, that’s been our focus.
The Knockturnal: If someone is just figuring out what mental health is and going down that journey, where do you recommend they begin? Like how to…what are like, some ways for them to educate themselves on mental health?
Stephanie Carnegie: Ok well, first off, the first thing that I’d like to educate our communities on is the difference between mental health and mental illness. So, I think educating and the knowledge of what these things actually mean is important. So, first and foremost, a mental illness has to be something that is diagnosable, a diagnosable disorder by a professional, a mental health professional. Mental health is simply paying attention to and taking care of your overall mental health. That means the thoughts that you’re thinking, your emotions and your feelings with things happening in your life, how you’re able to navigate through your feelings, the type of relationships that you have, are they healthy? Right? Are your thoughts and your feelings healthy? The way you deal with them, do you deal with them in a healthy way? The same way when it’s time to, you know, go to the doctor for a physical check-up, you know? It’s the same way. It’s checking in with yourself and how you’re feeling and how you’re thinking. And I think it starts with educating our communities. So community-based organizations like myself and other organizations really being accountable to get out in the community and educate; having conversations. I always tell people, “How do you start? You start with conversations.” You start with having these types of conversations, by spreading awareness, talking about it in the homes, in the schools, in the community. I just spoke at a press conference last Friday with the Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams because they held a press conference about the fact that the voices of Black and brown parents and students have been left out of the reopening of the schools and how could such a significant voice be left out of a conversation when our communities have been impacted the most by the pandemic and, you know, and by the COVID-19, right? And so, one of the things I said to the parents is that one of the most important seats, we’re talking about having a seat at all the tables and our voices being heard, that’s important too, but one of the most important seats is a seat at the table in your homes with your children, with your families. So for me, it’s starting the conversation. If you don’t know, you know, ask questions, you know, to find out. So, that’s, that’s one of the main things that I always say to people. Starting the conversation is the way to end the stigma and start moving forwards towards identifying what’s going on and then what we can do to help those issues.
The Knockturnal: What do you think is the biggest misconception regarding mental health within our community specifically?
Stephanie Carnegie: Hmm. Wow, there’s several. So, well the first one that I know has been a stigma for so long— I think the first misconception has always been that Black people don’t suffer from mental illness and mental health issues or that, that’s a white thing, you know. Also, the misconception in our communities about therapy. Because let me tell you, I am an advocate for therapy. Therapy is an extremely good thing. It is absolutely a release. You cannot heal from things that you don’t let go of, that you are not willing to release and get out of your life, and the only way you’re going to do that is by talking about it, right? So, yeah. So I think therapy is one of the greatest misconceptions; that it doesn’t work or that it’s a white person’s thing, that you sit on the couch and, you know, a person just asks you a bunch of uncomfortable questions and that’s all. And that’s absolutely not true. Therapy works. I’ve had Black men on my show, women, children. Therapy works. I want to get that message out to our communities. Therapy is healing and it works. Now there is other things you have to do in alignment with that of course. There are other practices, but therapy absolutely works, and it’s not just a white person thing. And the last––one thing that I really want to get out that I––any platform that I’m allowed the opportunity to speak I want to say this is a misconception: that Black children do not commit suicide. If I could stress anything in this interview, that one of the most over-looked and not focused on topics and issues in this country is Black youth and suicide. It is a national crisis. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Black youth ages 10-14. It is the third leading cause of death for Black adolescence ages 15-19. And the crisis age is 5-11 and when I say that, I have educators that are alarmed, even some policymakers that I’ve talked to, community leaders that are alarmed, and particularly the parents, which is scarier than anything, that are alarmed that suicide is happening. The death rate for suicide, Black youth, is the fastest-growing rate than any other ethnic group in the country as far as the rate of suicide and how fast it’s increasing, is with our Black youth. So, that’s the hugest misconception that I would like to put out there.
The Knockturnal: Globally, I know, every country handles the topic of mental health differently. Have you found out globally that there are other places that handle this subject better versus here in America?
Stephanie Carnegie: Hmm, you know what? That’s an interesting question. I do know that, and I don’t want to misquote, and I do not want to say “better”. I want to say that in Australia and in the UK, they do a lot with mental health because they have very high rates, over there, of mental illness and mental health cases. So there are, there’s a lot of resources. Even when you look via social media, you know, there are some pages that are, you know, raising mental health awareness and mental health advocacy groups. I find that there are a lot of them that are like in Australia and the UK. So I won’t say “better”, but I will say that…more, more aware. I think they have been more aware than we have.
The Knockturnal: So what are some of your goals for Totality? What are you guys––some milestones you want to hit? What are some achievements you’re looking to accomplish within the next two to three years?
Stephanie Carnegie: So first, I’d say, one of my ultimate goals, which will take longer than two to three years, is to open up Totality Wellness Centers throughout our communities. So, you know, totality, the word totality means the whole of something and we just recently launched our signature Totality t-shirt line and our signature tee literally just says totality. And I always said, it may seem like a very simple visual, but the meaning of it is so profound. The whole of something right? And so, we want to ultimately have Totality Wellness Centers across the country that focus on wellness, mind, body, and spirit. So all things that we encourage and do now, you know, meditation, yoga, fitness, nutrition, having the farmer’s markets, and being able to provide fresh food and fresh produce to the communities, you know? Growing our gardens and just educating our communities and being a source of wellness. So that’s like my ultimate goal, um, in a couple of years. Right now, I launched a platform called “The Seat on the Couch”. It was something that we were working on before the pandemic, and it got put on hold, and then in the midst of the pandemic God spoke to me and said, “Just start where you are”, and I did. So, “Seat on the Couch” is essentially mental health—it’s a live Instagram series right now every Thursday at 8, but it is a mental health platform. I don’t think there is any platform out here that really just focuses on—I’m not talking about podcasts and things. The ultimate goal is to take “A Seat on the Couch” and make it become digital. It’s been an Instagram series for the past four-five months. We are…have some exciting plans and stuff that we’re working on to take it to YouTube, and have it as a YouTube show, and my hope is to be able to nationally be syndicated to daily amplify the message of mental health, to share stories on healing, and to be a platform for what goes on in our communities constantly. Not just when it happens in the life of a celebrity, and I always say I’m not taking away from the importance of anybody’s life, but it’s a fact that in the media, mental health of an entertainer or if it happens in a suburban community, and this is a fact. So I would like to have “A Seat on the Couch” be a nationally syndicated show that daily amplifies the message of mental health and wellness. So, that is one thing. I am very quietly, as I mentioned, working on some things in regard to policy and legislation. I’m a former educator so I’ve worked in the schools and so I understand what it needs to look like, the education system, as far as training for educators on mental health, trauma-informed care, mental health education. And so, I have aligned myself with some people and so you can definitely look to see me—I don’t like the word politics and politician, but public policy and policy and legislation. It’s something that you will definitely see us focused on making—working towards making serious change and impact. I have some programs that we are working to get some contracts for. We’ve just become a 501c3. We spent two and a half years doing all of this work in the community out of pocket. And being able to have those transferrable skills from my work in PR to using my relationships to make things happen and I’m so grateful, but we’re taking it to the next level. So a lot of funding, you know, what I have realized is this non-profit stuff, it’s a real business and it’s got to work. Like so, to achieve and make the impact that we need, it takes funding, you know? So fundraisers, you know? Things like that, that we’re working on. Oh, and our signature Totality line, we’re going to be expanding. Right now we just have our signature tee. OJ, you’re a fashion guy. Definitely have to get you one, but, we will be expanding on that because that line is to be a line that affirms wellness. So our new slogan for that is “Affirm your Wholeness”. So when you wear our tees, you’re affirming your wholeness, being whole, being well—mind, body, and spirit. So, it’s like an affirmation line and philanthropy too because proceeds from that line we will give back to the work that we do in the community, but also supporting other organizations who are in alignment with, you know, with the type of work that we do.
The Knockturnal: Lastly, what would you say to somebody who is currently struggling with mental health? What kind of advice would you give them today?
Stephanie Carnegie: The first thing I would say is that you are not alone. I need to stress that. You are not alone. There is a village of support for you. It is ok, I always tell people, it is ok to not be ok. But it is not ok to suffer in silence and suffer alone. You can heal, and not just heal, but thrive after dealing with trauma, after dealing with mental health issues or suffering from a mental illness. You can heal. If you are intentional and accountable and want to heal, you know, there is hope. You know, there is hope. You’re not alone. You’re not alone. Oh, one more thing, I always tell people, be compassionate with yourself. Be kind to yourself. We often our biggest critics. And the road to healing it gets tough. It’s hard. That self-reflecting, getting into that real deep, dirty work that you have to go through in order to heal, it scares people because sometimes it’s easier to stay in a place of comfort even if it’s not good for you because that’s a place of comfort. And all that hurt––you got to revisit the hurt, you got to revisit stuff in order to get to the healing. And when you’re going through that just be kind to yourself and be compassionate to yourself through the process. And so that’s what I would lead people with.