Model and Activist Elizabeth Sawatzky on Mental Health Awareness Month

Model and Activist Elizabeth Sawatzky on Mental Health Awareness Month

As Mental Health Awareness Month comes to a close, we talk to model and mental health awareness activist Elizabeth Sawatzky about her struggle with mental illness, the organizations she works with, and her modeling aspirations.

As Mental Health Awareness Month comes to a close, we talk to model and mental health awareness activist Elizabeth Sawatzky about her struggle with mental illness, the organizations she works with, and her modeling aspirations.

Photography: Rachel & JF

Styling: Sean Knight

Text: Adair Smith

Tell me a little bit about yourself, like where you are from, how old you are, and what you do.

I was born in Oklahoma and raised in North Carolina. Both places definitely shaped me into who I am today; deeply spiritual, hardworking, connected to nature, and deeply passionate about the things and the people I love. I’m 21 years old and I work as a model. I love to write and am planning to do more with it in the near future. I also recently signed with a commercial acting agency, so I’ve started memorizing scripts and self-taping. Acting has always been a clear dream of mine and I’m so excited to invest more seriously into it now.

So May is mental health awareness month, can you tell me a little about your struggle with mental health?

I’ve struggled with mental health since I was 15. I can mark the beginning of it because it really became evident after a major surgery I had. But, like many people struggling, I didn’t identify how I was feeling as depression. I suppressed it for almost 5 years so it just kept building and manifesting itself in different, more intense ways. Finally, a little over a year ago, I made a choice to be honest with myself to get help and get healthy. It was a last resort because I was just spiraling farther and farther into a really dark place.

You also work with a lot of organizations, can you tell me what they are and what you do (hope to do) for them?

An amazing non-profit called To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA) recently reached out to me about teaming up with them to share my story and potentially publish some of my personal writing about mental health. TWLOHA is dedicated to raising awareness and offering help for people dealing with every aspect of mental health disorders. I’m really honored to work with them and I want to connect and offer hope to as many people as I can.

Now that you are on the other side of depression, what are some day-to-day things you do to help yourself stay balanced?

I’m going to be 100% honest and say that I’m not completely on the other side of depression. I am definitely so much healthier than I was a year ago, but my journey to wellness is still pretty new and it’s constantly evolving. That’s the beauty of it though; if I can look back even two months ago and see how much ground I have covered and the small battles I’ve won, then I’m thankful because it means I’m still fighting.

That said, I have developed coping mechanisms and I do have little things that really help to keep me balanced so the bad days don’t turn into bad weeks. Writing brings me so much peace and clarity. I encourage anybody who comes to me asking for help to write. Another healthy habit I have developed is going outside, even if it’s just for 5 minutes to walk my dog. It helps me remember that there is still so much beauty in the world, so much life, something bigger than me and I don’t feel so trapped in my mind. But the most powerful, yet most difficult, practice is taking control of my thoughts. Lately, for every sad or self-deprecating, or untrue thought I have, I replace it with something I’m thankful for. Some days it’s as small as “I’m thankful for this coffee in my hand”, but over time it manifests into more positivity and attracts even more light.

What is one thing you want someone who is struggling with mental illness to know?

I would like to say, just hold on. You can’t even imagine the amazing things that are going to happen in your life. I want you to know that it does get better. You may not feel it or believe it now, but say it to yourself every day. I want to tell you how incredibly brave, strong, and beautiful you are; look at you, getting out of bed even though it hurts. You took a shower today! Congratulations! One foot in front of the other. You deserve to be here, keep fighting.

What is one thing you want someone who has a person they know dealing with mental illness to know?

Love them through it. There isn’t a roadmap to dealing with mental illness, no specific formula. Each person suffers and struggles differently. It’s daunting, frustrating, and heartbreaking when you don’t know how to help but your support is more important than answers. Mental illness is not a sign of weakness. They need you, don’t give up.

Has your awareness of mental illness and your own struggle made you see modeling differently?

In the two years I've been modeling, I have been overwhelmed by the positivity and the beautiful people I've had the privilege to work with. I know not everybody can say the same and I was a bit nervous when I began because of the horror stories I'd heard about the industry, but modeling has been a source of inspiration, an outlet, and a huge opportunity. In the first year, I did struggle with my body image for the first time in my life and I think modeling contributed to me being hyper aware of my body, but even that was more of a personal struggle because nobody was telling me to lose weight or look a certain way. The industry has changed so much even in the last 10 years and now guys/girls are just encouraged to be healthy and find a balance between work and personal life. The health-conscious aspect to modeling is something I'm really grateful for because otherwise, I wouldn't know so much about nutrition and fitness. I can also say, I know my body more than ever and feel so comfortable in my skin. But I realize it could have gone a completely different way, especially with my pre-existing mental illness and I attribute my positive outlook to the balance I was able to implement early on. I leave work at work and I make sure to take days for myself. I learned how to communicate and ask for what I need. I make sure to go home a few times a year and I don't have close friends in the industry--not that it's bad to have friends in the industry and I won't rule it out for the future, but for now it helps me stay grounded and keep a distance from the intensity of the modeling world.

Do you think the platform you have built from modeling has helped your cause?

The exposure I've gotten because of modeling has definitely given my story a farther reach. Starting out, I didn't have a clear "cause" but I just started writing about my experiences and what I'm passionate about and the connection gained speed and happened really naturally. I'm so grateful for that. I want to spread love and hope to as many people and places as I can. And I think of mental health less as my platform because that sounds impersonal to me; I think of it as me living my truth and letting what's inside my heart spill out. Truth and love inevitably connect people because it's what we're all searching for.

Where do you hope modeling takes you?

I love this question because there is no limit to the places I will go. I want to see it all, I want to do it all- I have no fear. I definitely want to live in NYC for a period of my life. I want to travel to Switzerland, walk shows in Milan & Paris. I want to work with fashion houses like Balenciaga, Chanel, Gucci; the kind of brands that still care about quality, intricacy, and fashion. I want a beauty campaign and a magazine cover. And of course, I wouldn’t mind seeing myself on a billboard above all the city lights!

JUMPSUIT AND GLOVESDROME EARRING EDDIE BORGO
Credits: Hair Dimitris Giannetos at Opus Beauty using R+Co Make-up Mia Yang at Ateleier Manicurist  Kim Truong

UP NEXT

Ariana Grande Releases Heartfelt Statement on Manchester Attack