In her early 20s, she had to quit temporarily acting due to an extreme anxiety disorder which made it difficult for her to speak in public. Years earlier, at the age of 15, Snow had a profound experience which serendipitously came full circle in her adult years as a sign to create a platform based on how storytelling and random acts of kindness can bring change to mental health.
The story goes like this: While in the trenches of her struggles as a teenager, she discovered an article in a magazine about a girl going through a similar experience to her own. For the first time, Snow was seeing her own story in this girl’s written words and realized she was not alone—so much so that she kept the folded story her back pocket for months. In 2008 (a time when mental health was not as readily talked about as it is today), Snow revealed her own struggles to People. Later, she met a young girl at a coffee shop who shared that she kept Snow’s story in her own back pocket. Just like Snow had at 15 years old, this girl found solace in Brittany’s story through written form.
With the impact each story had on these women, it became evident to Snow that letters and expression of self through written word is a healing tool for both the writer and the reader. She realized that these stories we share, no matter how small, can help someone else. Telling her friend Jaspre Guest about this, Guest (Founder of Happy Noise) and Snow officially launched September Letters in September 2020. Its aim is centered around mental health awareness and the letter-writing experience, by connecting strangers to share experiences and inspiration. Through open dialogue and hearing others stories, the organization aims to end the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness and give power to those affected.
It became evident to Snow that letters and expression of self through written word is a healing tool for both the writer and the reader. She realized that these stories we share, no matter how small, can help someone else.
If there was ever a time to create an organization based on this empowering instrument, it’s now. According to Papier, in March 2020, sales of greeting cards, notecards, and writing paper increased by over 300 percent as people put pen to paper to connect with one another during the lockdown. And in accordance with September Letter’s mission, Jacqueline Shinefield, EdD, LMFT, encourages her patients to use the traditional method of letter writing to connect with friends and family. “During the pandemic I have been working as a part of the Disastershock research team, and one of the discoveries we have made is that written communication brings positive emotions to both the person writing the letter and the person receiving it,” she says. “Taking account of the events—both positive and negative—that happen and expressing our feelings is a key tool in building resilience.”
Letter writing also helps in the form of narrative therapy, a type of therapy that utilizes the technique of storytelling in order to bring healing to a patient. “The act of writing one’s story enables a person to relate to their experience in a way that brings healing,” Dr. Shinefield says. “Recognizing recurrent themes that happen in our daily life can help to break negative patterns that occur. As the narrator, a patient can take control of the story and find their truth.”
Alexandra Geneva, a certified health coach who specializes in helping young professional women who’ve struggled with eating adds: “There’s something inherently mentally healthy about externalizing thought on paper, first because it takes the debilitating tangle out of your head, clearing valuable mental space, and second because language is a powerful tool to name and, thus, gain insight and control over our thoughts and responses.”
Get to know Brittany Snow, Jaspre Guest, and the organization of September Letters that’s working to change mental health by reading the Q&A below:
Well+Good: What inspired you to start September Letters together?
Brittany Snow: I met Jaspre through a mutual friend a long time ago. She was throwing a party and I remember thinking how much this woman owned everything she did. We clicked right away. She’s the perfect balance of badass boss and genuinely kind.
Jaspre Guest: It was sort of like we knew each other in another life. We had that instant connection. I think we both felt that something was going to happen. We have been friends for a long time and I think we developed a trust that isn’t easy to find. A few years ago, we were both in the same city for a few months and that time together really allowed us to workshop September Letters. It started as a conversation about a dream Britt had always wanted to do. I have this ability to go do something rather than just talk about it. I looked at her and said, “you have to do this. It is so needed. I will help you.” And that was all it took, everything started falling into place [after that].
What’s the inspiration behind the name ‘September Letters’?
Brittany Snow: September has always been a personal month to me. It signifies hope and choosing yourself. I made a decision 11 years ago in September that I was going to fight and keep going. It was actually Jaspre’s idea to choose that name. I hope it brings hope to other people as well.
Why do you think letter writing is such a powerful tool?
Brittany Snow: I think the act of writing is an act of self care. You are taking time for yourself and for your mind. That space between your thoughts and writing them down is a meditative state and one where you can sometimes find the answers. I find, when I write things down, I am actively choosing myself and listening. More often than not, I feel better when I can see the story right in front of me and decipher the truth from what my mind tells me.
Jaspre Guest: I write everything down on paper. I have lists upon lists upon lists. I own so many different notebooks and nothing brings me more joy than writing it out. I am constantly on the hunt for the grade school spiral notebooks that are colorful and bright. I own pens in every color of the rainbow and more often than not I am doodling in my notebook while brainstorming or on calls. It is highly therapeutic for me. I feel that I process things how they actually are not the way they might be made up in my mind. There is magic in seeing it down on paper and the act of actually writing it out.
How did you get involved in this work and why?
Brittany Snow: Mental health has always been something that fuels me. Not just because I have personal experience with mental health struggles but I believe everyone, in some way, is affected by mental health issues. You either know someone, a family member, a friend, a co-worker… everyone has a story. We speak a lot about physical health and we take care of our bodies, but there’s still some hesitation and vulnerability to talk to others about our mind. I’ve always found that interesting. It is not weak to talk about things you are going through in terms of mental health. It makes you strong. The more we share our stories and realize we are one of many, the more we can recover from a place of strength and not shame.
Jaspre Guest: I have always had this innate desire to help people however I can. I find people in general do not do that enough. We are a very me, me, me world, but what about others? Such small acts of kindness can make seismic changes in another person’s life. I have been aware of the connection between the mind and body since I was a young child, and it is freeing to know that others are finally being able to see it as well. By being open and sharing experiences, you realize you are not alone or isolated in your struggles. We become united in telling our stories.
What’s the most impactful thing you’ve learned about mental health through September Letters?
Brittany Snow: It’s been beautiful to see the community of people who want to help others. I think helping someone else is one of our greatest tools in helping ourselves. It connects people and that connection heals us. Seeing strangers reach out to each other and supporting each other’s stories, makes me feel like there’s always hope.
Jaspre Guest: Building a safe community was the most important thing to us. Every step we would take, there would be a check in about are we doing the most we possibly can do to make this feel safe? The website is interactive and gives the reader the ability to leave comments on letters or even request a letter (my personal favorite). Seeing strangers from around the world take the time to respond and leave a kind note or thought makes me believe everything is possible. When we first launched, Britt and I were hoping to receive at least a few letters. Within the first few days we received hundreds of letters—it was overwhelming in a really beautiful way. No one knew we had been working on [September Letters] for almost two years. For it to be finally out in the world, with people reacting in such a strong way, made me realize how vast the need is.
“Seeing strangers from around the world take the time to respond and leave a kind note or thought makes me believe everything is possible.” — Jaspre Guest
What message do you have for other people who are struggling with mental health, but don’t know how to begin to address that?
Brittany Snow: Jaspre and I always talk about the “toolbox.” Meaning, not everyone has the same story, so not everyone will need the same thing. We like to think of having a toolbox as lots of little things you know can help you when you are feeling a certain way. It might be, reaching out to friends, going on a walk, reading a spiritual book, meditation, listening to music. We find that sometimes we don’t really understand what is going on in our minds. That’s why September Letters has hopefully been therapeutic for some. My message to people who don’t know where to start and are struggling is, “welcome home.” It’s okay to feel the way you’re feeling and completely normal. You are not crazy, weird or too much. The first step is realizing it’s okay to talk about what’s going on and it’s more than okay to get help.
Jaspre Guest: As Brittany said, we are big believers in the toolbox and the best part is it is completely bespoke to who you are. Once you build your toolbox, it is always there for whatever you decide to use from it for support and it can change from day to day. There is no shame in asking for help as it actually displays strength. Your toolbox can be a wonderful mix of different things like writing via letters or journaling, listening to music, dancing it out or even doodling. The first step is recognizing that you need help and then exploring what feels good. There is no right place to start, giving yourself the permission to start is the first step.
What’s next for September Letters?
Jaspre Guest: There are a few secret projects in the works. Our “You Are Enough” bouquet with UrbanStems was incredible and we will be back at the end of the year for another activation. We just launched the “Wish You Were Here” campaign at OSEA Skincare Studio in Venice, California brought to life and beautifully hand-painted by Overall Murals. We have a digital postcard that you can share from our website (scroll all the way down on the home page) that inspired us to do physical walls across the U.S. If anyone has a wall that they would like to donate to September Letters, send us a DM. It is a total dream to be doing large scale public art with an intention to all.
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