Ariana Alejandra Gibson: Normalizing Mental Health through Stories and Safe Spaces
Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, who are advancing the UN SDGs.
Hi there! Spiffy here with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. I’ve been speaking with innovators from around the world who are working on UN SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being. Our guest for today is one of them. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Ariana Alejandra Gibson, the co-founder and CEO of STIGMA. Let’s see what she is doing to make a positive impact in the world.
Spiffy: Hi Ariana, thanks a million for talking to me today. Tell me, what challenge is STIGMA addressing?
Ariana: Happy to be with you, Spiffy! Our mission at STIGMA is to normalize conversations about mental health through storytelling so that asking for help becomes easier. There are a lot of rallying cries in the world to "normalize conversations about mental health", but if you don't give people a safe space to practice having these challenging conversations for the first time, we won't make progress. At STIGMA, we host events where people can sit in front of a camera and share their stories and we have a mobile app where people can watch those stories or use it as a way to ask for and offer messages of hope to people who understand their lived experiences.
Spiffy: What motivated you to do it?
Ariana: I was born in Costa Rica to a father with schizophrenia, and I saw how cruel the world can be to people who are different. I saw a lot of portrayals in the media and on television of schizophrenic people that weren't fair or correct. So, I wanted to tell stories of real people living with misunderstood conditions to help educate societies about what living with mental illness and other conditions actually looks like.
Spiffy: This is so important, how would you say that your organization is building a more equitable world?
Ariana: We have three pillars of STIGMA: Education, Compassion, and Action. We educate people with the stories we share, and when people learn about a condition through the voice of a human who is living with it, they develop more compassion for that person and the lived experience. When someone is ready to take action, our app connects them to others and to resources to get help or offer support.
Spiffy: That’s so kind! Tell me about a recent organization milestone for STIGMA. What impact does it make?
Ariana: We recently crossed 1 million views of our content on TikTok. For us, it's not about being "famous" or "influencers." This number means that over a million people have watched stories that will make them either feel less alone in their experience or that make people be more compassionate to lived experiences outside of their own.
Spiffy: That’s beautiful. Speaking of shared experiences, what is an experience when you faced a failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from it?
Ariana: I love to sing. I'm not great at it, but it's something I love to do. In high school I auditioned for an a cappella group at school, and I didn't make it. I tried out every year and never made it, but I didn't let that stop me from singing. For me it was never about trying to make it as a singer. I just wanted to spend time singing because it brought me joy. So, I kept doing it. When I was pregnant with my son and almost every day since he was born 4 years ago, I would sing to him. Now, I sing with him. I didn't let one space for singing that said, “No” stop me from doing something that I love.
Spiffy: What is something you've unexpectedly learned from someone recently?
Ariana: I've learned that if you have a dream, you work really, really hard, and never give up even when it gets so challenging that you want to, you can do incredible things.
Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Ariana—it’s been an honor!
Ariana Alejandra Gibson is a documentary filmmaker and startup founder who spends her time making videos about people who are inspiring. She is passionate about normalizing conversations about mental health and loves to travel. (Nominated by Desiree Vargas Wrigley of TechRise. First published on the Ladderworks website on September 8, 2022.)
© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jason “Jackson” Block. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Corner here.