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How Jamaican comedian Julie Mango is using her platform to advocate for mental health

In observance of Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re sharing the story of Juliet Bodley, aka Julie Mango. Over the course of the pandemic, Juliet became one of the most sought after Jamaican comedians by posting hilarious skits on Jamaican culture on her social media channels. Juliet, who has struggled with mental illness in the past, is using her platform to highlight tools and resources for mental health, as well as advocate for a shift in the negative stigma around mental illness. 

By Nicanor Gordon

If Juliet Bodley had a LinkedIn profile it would stretch for miles. The Jamaican-born, Missouri-based content creator took an arduous path to pinpoint her calling. She’s a certified Life Coach, a renowned public speaker, former member of the Jamaica Defense Force, a lifelong cadet, trained pilot, and a university graduate with a master of science in engineering management. But, next… is the big screen.

“I want to be in Avatar and Avengers,” she half-jokes. “I want to have to lose weight, and look hot and sexy.” 

She’s already taken the first step into long-form content, beginning with filming the pilot for The Julie Mango Sketch Comedy Show in May. Her goals are lofty, but Juliet has spent much of her life defying odds and overcoming all sorts of obstacles.

Juliet was officially diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) at 21. BPD is a condition where the diagnosed experiences difficulty regulating their emotions. These powerful mood swings result in intense emotions for often extended periods of time. The effects can be catastrophic – relationships become hard to maintain, self-image plummets, and they might even self-harm.

Juliet started cutting herself at eight years old. It began with a bottle-stopper against her thumb, but it morphed into a habit that has left her with scars on her arms to this day.

 “The self-defamation and self-mutilation – it felt like something I deserved, and something that was good for me,” she reveals to Yendi Phillips, in a tell-all interview. 

Her family could not help her, they did not know how. They couldn’t even tell what was wrong with her. Even Juliet wasn’t sure what her next steps should have been. 

There’s a massive stigma around mental illness in Jamaica, and it left them all ill-equipped to even talk about it. She went through much of her twenties without a strategy, medication or coping practices. Living with untreated BPD leaves you at the mercy of your mercurial mood. She’d be quick to correct the word ‘living’. “I was dying while alive. I literally became a zombie.”

So, she hit lows. Her two years in the Jamaica Defense Force (JDF), under oppressive conditions, would be enough to rattle even the most neurotypical. Her service was plagued by sexism, unflattering rumors that swirled among her peers, and overbearing, hypercritical superiors. “If you’re not mentally strong, especially as a woman… if you don’t love yourself, the JDF will rip you apart,” she states grimly. All of it stacked up – the pressure from her family, the JDF, her own expectations – and in 2011, she crashed her car on the highway between the Falmouth Police Station and the Delta Company. It was her first suicide attempt.

She’s frank again. “After you’ve attempted suicide you don’t feel better. You fail at life, and you fail at death. What are you?” Without help, many are at risk of a repeat attempt. 

And, Juliet tried again. Overdosing on sleeping pills. And, then she tried again. Chugging down disinfectant. Eventually she was “sentenced” to Ward 21, the psychiatric ward at the University of West Indies Hospital. “The stigma associated with mental health is even worse than the mental health issues themselves.” she explains.

Ward 21, as Juliet describes how it was at the time, was less an institution and more similar to the madhouse Batman puts his villains in. It was poorly lit and monotonous – no activities. Patients were allowed only three hours of television. They weren’t separated by illnesses, nor did they have much privacy. Juliet recalls sharing her room with a woman suffering from hallucinations. This roommate would get stir-crazy, “casting out demons”, aka spitting on Juliet in her sleep. 

The institutions are one of the biggest bottlenecks in improving mental health treatment in Jamaica and Juliet is scathing, “Ward 21 is set up for you to be worse off when you leave there.”

This, of course, did not improve her condition. It would take migrating to Missouri in 2018 before Juliet saw real improvement. The separation from family and exposure to a new, refreshing attitude towards mental health made her more receptive to receiving help. In Juliet’s experience, the attitude to mental illness, and being public about it, was night and day when compared to Jamaica. It was a means of pride to admit that you were mentally ill and taking the steps to get better. 

Juliet stayed on with her Jamaican therapist and after a year of conversations and mini-breakthroughs, it hit her, “I just didn’t want to die.” It was the first step in an ongoing journey to unlearn the beliefs she had internalized since childhood – a complete reprogramming that she likens to installing a new operating system.

She’s combined this life experience with her talent as a performer to carve out an emergent career as a professional speaker. She delivers keynotes on mental health, does motivational talks, and provides coaching and organizational workshops, all with a focus on mental health.

“My comedy gets people to laugh, but laughing is essentially a distraction unless you’re working on your problem. I give people the tools to face and overcome a problem, and not just laugh it off and not deal with it.”

Still, comedy is a key pillar of her life. “It’s my heartbeat,” she gushes. 

She sees her following as a community, and not just as fans. “They’re so up in my business, they know when I have on eyelashes, and they know when my nails are going on two weeks now,” she chuckles. 

She’s cultivated this following through dramatizing specific, yet surprisingly relatable, “Jamaicanisms,” and these followers pitch her ideas all the time, establishing a unique back and forth in the comments of her videos. The cadence and confidence of her storytelling comes from her father, who she cites as one of the most enthralling storytellers she’s ever met. The entertaining structure and flow came from the numerous drama teachers at her alma mater, Manchester High, all of whom saw her turn for theatrics coming long before she did.

Right now, she’s leveraging her platform to shine a light on mental illness and dispel the commonly held myths in ways no one did for her growing up. She’s thought this through. “I want my advocacy to lead to the topic of mental health to be compulsory in 1st to 3rd form, with an option to take it at the CSEC level,” she plainly lays out her mission statement. 

She wants all of the basics covered – learning self love and self respect, and supplementing the lessons at home. She doesn’t blame parents for not being versed in the topic. “Some parents can’t teach math, some can’t teach bio, and some can’t teach mental health,” she says.

Juliet believes that the stigma will gradually fade as more kids learn and accept mental health as being as important as physical health. For the adults, she wants more events. For instance, where we have marathons to fundraise cancer charities and raise awareness of the disease, there could be similar events for mental illnesses. To complement these initiatives, Juliet would like pastors and other elders in the church to address mental illness.

“People think that therapy and church are mutually exclusive, and they’re not,” she explains. To her science is a part of what God wants his people to do, and to take pride in self-directed improvement in addition to worship.

As for what’s next for Julie Mango? She’s making her way through The 90 Day Screenplay, a crash course of a book designed to get you from concept to a written story for the big screen in as fast a time as possible. She has dreams of working alongside Will Smith, Tyler Perry, and Taraji P. Henson, just to name a few. But, until that script slides under her door, she’s going to write her own story.

Visit Juliet Bodley online at www.julietbodley.com | @iamjuliemango

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