Exploring our inner worlds

Anxy, and the Future of Mental Health Media

Facing challenges to scale, mental health publications are shuttering. What's happening? And what's next?

When seeking inspiration for Supermaker in the months before our June 2019 launch, Indhira Rojas had no way of knowing, but our team was obsessing over the fine details of her mental health magazine Anxy.

Exquisitely designed and bound, and filled with challenging articles about mental health, masculinity, and boundaries, Anxy created a new paradigm in my mind of what successful offline curation looked like. Rojas, who founded and served as Creative Director of Anxy since its first issue was printed in 2017, deftly merged design and editorial, encouraging writers to lean into meaningful personal narratives and elicit actionable takeaways for readers.

When contemplating our audience engagement strategy, we asked ourselves: What does it mean for us a publication to ask for reflection from our readers? To whom does our responsibility lie as a publisher? What does it even mean to consume media?

Anxy called earnestly upon its readers to examine their inner worlds, but what they did perhaps best of all was to earn readers’ trust. By burrowing into a then-underreported niche like mental health—and teaming up with wildly talented essayists and designers willing to “go there"—Anxy soothed our souls by reminding us that it’s natural to be imperfect, and to learn to process our own trauma and learned behaviors as we grow. It reminded us that it’s OK to not be OK, and that ruminating about our own mental health is an inevitable reflection of our own humanity.

Where Psychology Today sits on the diagnostic and self-help position of the spectrum, Anxy sits inversely between personal discovery and a lifestyle brand. Had they been allowed to continue down this path, perhaps we would eventually see an Anxy meditation app, a podcast or series on AppleTV, a line of products, and subscription service dedicated to sharing the best of contemporary psychology. They might be defined as the brand making psychoeducation engaging and achievable to grasp.

But.

Last month, Anxy shuttered. Faced with an array of challenges to scale, and despite having sold 30,000 copies in our “print is dead” era, founder Indhira Rojas made the difficult decision to turn off the lights. In A Farewell from Anxy, Rojas wrote:

“I started conversations with advisors and friends about how to approach VCs, built a pitch deck, and mapped our potential trajectory and growth goals. I got feedback, made revisions, got more feedback, and continued to refine our pitch further. I did my best to present the untapped potential of Anxy. None of the conversations led to funding. While being a print publication was a strength for us, for investors, it was a limitation. They wanted to see a digital product, with low cost and high profitability, something able to scale exponentially and show deep traction. It made me wonder if, in the end, our truth is more art than commerce.”

This month, Supermaker is kicking off our own Mental Health collection, in which we explore themes of psychology, identity, self-care, and empathy. And as part of this series, we’ll also be sharing some of Anxy’s best articles that had never before seen the digital light of day. But first, Supermaker spoke with Rojas to learn more about Anxy’s legacy—and what’s to come for mental health media.


Photos by Ellen Keith Shaw

Why did you start Anxy? What was it like in the early days of getting the brand off the ground?

Anxy started from a desire to connect with others struggling with mental health and a history of trauma. I felt many of us walk around, pretending to each other that everything is OK when, in reality, we are longing to be seen. We hide our sadness and our loneliness when what we really want is to feel less alone. I intuitively knew I could not be the only one navigating these issues. I wondered, where are the others? How are they coping? What has helped them? I couldn't find a publication navigating these questions with an artful and creative lens, and decided to pursue making it.

"I felt many of us walk around, pretending to each other that everything is OK when, in reality, we are longing to be seen. We hide our sadness and our loneliness when what we really want is to feel less alone."

In the beginning, it required a lot of faith and generosity, starting with the Anxy editors. They saw the value of the project and jumped in with ideas and perspectives, which allowed us to get the engine started. Then, backers of the first Kickstarter who believed in our project, gave us the confidence (and the funds!) to execute it. From there, it was all hard work: juggling our traditional work commitments to develop the concepts, finding the right voices and artists, designing it, and putting it all in production.

Once we showed our proof of concept with our first release, The Anger Issue, and people understood the depth of what we were trying to do. Readers saw the quality of the stories and the design and quickly became Anxy enthusiasts. It was readers' word of mouth that helped the Anxy brand grow organically into an award-winning global independent magazine.

In an era where tech has had a significant impact on print media, you managed to sell tens of thousands of copies across a dozen countries. What was Anxy’s secret to success?

Anxy tapped into a nascent topic, which happens to be also a source of shame for many people. We were asking them to, in one way or another, step outside of that shame and share with us their inner worlds. We gave people permission to express what was truly happening in their lives. Anxy began in 2016 before #metoo became a global movement, and talking about self-care and wellbeing wasn't as commonplace in social media as it is today. Our values around vulnerability and embracing the raw aspects of our lives gave us a powerful connection with people.

The other element that was unique to Anxy was our art and design approach, combined with our focus on personal narratives. When you look at content in the mental health space, from a design perspective, it tends to be presented from a medical point of view: images of people at the doctor, images of rooms in hospitals, or any other visual element related to medicine, or medication. It makes mental health content feel pathologizing and pushes away people who are looking to understand their experience. We wanted to create a non-judgemental magazine in mental health informed by art therapy. Art and design can be a vehicle to enter into these topics that sometimes are difficult to address. It makes it engaging and invites curiosity.

We also steered away from the conventional narratives centered on recommendations, how to's, and diagnoses. We focused on experience. Telling our stories is how we make sense of them. It's how we make meaning of our lives. We saw an opportunity to go deeper by avoiding the conventional problem-solving approach.

Then, you have the aspect of the print format. The intention was to create an experience that would take people away from our constant state of distraction. Print is perfect for that: it's just paper. It's also nostalgic. The combination of an analog printed format with content focused on mental health and turned out to be magical.

"We focused on experience. Telling our stories is how we make sense of them. It's how we make meaning of our lives. We saw an opportunity to go deeper by avoiding the conventional problem-solving approach."

Recently, you announced that Anxy would cease operations. What challenges led you to this decision?

Many factors played a role in making the decision—part personal, part business infrastructure, and part our capacity to sustain the project. In my farewell letter, I share the journey. When I reflect on the biggest blockers to success, for me, it continues to go back to the ability of any business to sustainably scale without 'breaking the machine' (the people behind the work) or 'breaking the bank.' What makes it complicated is that you need to scale to create more capital, but you need more capital to scale.

I came into the Anxy project, as a curious designer with an idea. In a way, naive to the operational aspects of running a project of such ambition. The original plan was for it to exist alongside my consulting practice. How it resonated with people went far beyond my wildest dreams. The desire to keep up with the growing needs of Anxy added complexity to the project, and suddenly it became a real business endeavor. Figuring out how to run a business sustainably is a puzzle, and I ran out of runway to solve it.

What would you have done to grow Anxy if the company had secured its ideal funding situation?

The vision was to grow Anxy into a global media and lifestyle brand focused on mental wellness. Anxy was in the process of becoming the voice of the mental wellness movement, and we wanted to push it further. The plan was to build our community by expanding into other channels and experiences. Anxy had mostly been a print endeavor, which meant there were various areas of untapped potential.

The first area we saw a big opportunity was in developing a digital platform, with daily or weekly online content, and an app with exclusive stories and a podcast. We also wanted to offer the community a membership program, and create a yearly IRL gathering to share inspirational stories and life lessons. If all went well, we saw the possibility of expanding into Anxy wellness products, or even docu-series TV content. The bottom line is: we wanted Anxy to become a robust brand that could meet people where they were, with our mission of storytelling and vulnerability.

Looking back, what did Anxy get right? What could Anxy have done differently?

What we got right was out method: vulnerable stories on mental health told through an artful lens.

In terms of what we could have done differently, the thing that stands out is committing to a more ambitious vision right from the start. Anxy was a side project we were building issue by issue.

We’ve talked about the gap that Anxy filled in the mental health publishing space. Looking forward, what are your hopes and predictions for this space?

My hopeful prediction is that mental wellness will become an integrated aspect of our everyday lives. Getting counseling and support will be a shameless act, as commonplace as going to the dentist. Collectively we will become more accepting that painful experiences happen, and each and one of us will experience one, or many, at some point in our lives. When they occur, we will have the wisdom to see there should be no shame in asking for help, and that our current struggles don't mean we are weak or broken. It means we are human, and we did what was required to adapt and survive.

In the mental wellness space, we will see a movement towards a non-judgemental culture that considers processing our trauma, childhood experiences, and conditioning as pivotal. We will move into a higher mode of collective intelligence where we know becoming a thriving, self-actualized human being requires understanding and repairing unmet psychological and developmental needs. For that reason, future generations will have language and practices, such as: identifying adverse childhood experiences (ACE), mindfulness, emotional regulation, dialectic behavioral therapy, establishing boundaries, recognizing co-dependent behavior, and developing a strong sense of self and individuation.

Lastly, mental wellness products will be one more category, together with cannabis, CBD, and self-care.

What does Anxy’s closure personally mean to you? And what’s next for Indhi?

It's too early to grasp everything Anxy's closure has meant for me. Right now, I move between profound grief and deep gratitude. I see everything that we were able to accomplish within the limited resources and substantial constraints, and I feel proud of the work we've put in the world. I know it has had a real impact; people have told us through their lovely messages and emails.

"In the mental wellness space, we will see a movement towards a non-judgemental culture that considers processing our trauma, childhood experiences, and conditioning as pivotal."

Sometimes a feeling of failure can take hold. I can get overwhelmed with questions of what I could have done better, how I could have made different decisions, or how I could have been wiser in navigating some of the complexities that came up. I try to remind myself that the project was what it needed to be in the moment, and I did the best I could given the circumstances and my level of growth at that given time.

I've gone through a profound transformation. One that has allowed me to change my life for the better and embrace radical expression and art differently. Anxy has connected me to our collective humanity in a way that has been healing.

As for what's next, I'm still figuring that out. I'm taking a step back from running my own practice, and I'll be joining a more traditional organization where I can learn from others and hone my leadership skills. I want to stay engaged with connecting people, telling stories, and continuing to advocate for the power of art and design as it related to mental health and wellness. I want to continue to tell my story as a survivor of trauma and be a resource to others in their journey to reclaiming their lives.

What’s the best way for people to support Anxy?

Many people have yet to discover Anxy. The best way to support us is by sharing

http://anxymag.com

, encouraging people to buy our issues, and gifting them to others to whom you think would benefit from the magazine.

Anxy is a beautifully designed magazine about our inner worlds—the ones we often refuse to share, the personal struggles, the fears that fool us into believing that the rest of the world is normal and we’re not.

Shop Anxy's past issues at anxymag.com.

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