Jade Mathis Hopes Talking About Her Depression Ends the Stigma in Her Communities: 'I'm Going to Do It Boldly'

The assistant state attorney and daughter of TV's Judge Greg Mathis shares with PEOPLE why being candid about her struggles is so important to her

Jade Mathis https://www.dropbox.com/s/hou30nvjccy1ant/Jade_Mathis_Orange.jpg?dl=0
Photo: Jackie Hicks

Jade Ellis Mathis is determined to not let her depression diagnosis define her — but she does hope to use it to inspire others. She hopes that speaking out about her personal struggle might encourage people to seek help if they need it.

"I really think it's important to tell people it is okay not to be okay," says Jade Mathis, 36. "It's okay not to be okay all the time. And it's okay to tell people. People can't help you unless you tell them that you need help. But most importantly, there is no shame."

Jade, the oldest child of TV judge Greg Mathis, was diagnosed with depression and ADHD in 2006, when she was a sophomore studying broadcast journalism at a university in Georgia. She fought through her depression and finished college, went to law school, passed the bar exam amid a cancer scare, and then spent seven years as the Assistant State Attorney for Prince George's County, MD.

Ten years after her diagnosis, she spoke about it publicly for the first time at First Baptist Church in Glenarden. The video of her 2016 testimony has received about a million views.

"I feel like it is part of my duty and my calling, and honestly, just my purpose. My God-given purpose is just to spread awareness to say, 'Look at me. I go through it. I suffered through it. I still battle with it,' " she says. "I am going to use my story to inspire African Americans, because they don't like to talk about mental health conditions, and the faith-based community. I'm a part of both of those two communities who do not want to talk about it. I'm going to do it and I'm going to do it boldly."

That speech launched her mental health advocacy career. In October, Jade pressed pause on her law career and moved to Los Angeles to join her family as they filmed a reality show for E!, "Mathis Family Matters" (which premieres June 19 at 9:30 EST).

She launched The Resilient J.E.M, and now travels the country as a mental health advocate and An influencer for the National Institutes of Health's All of Us Research program, speaking at churches and colleges in an attempt to reach students who are the same age as she was when she got her diagnosis.

Jade Mathis Kenya
Jade Mathis

"I have so many students that come up to me afterwards and they're like, 'I am going through exactly what it sounds like you were going through. And I didn't know what to do. And I didn't know who to talk to. And I was embarrassed. So thank you so much for this,' " Jade tells PEOPLE. "It just warms my heart, because I wish I had somebody when I was in college or even law school to come talk to me and tell me that it's okay."

Below, Jade shares her story in her own words with PEOPLE as part of PEOPLE's year-long Let's Talk About it campaign:

I was 20 years old, and I noticed that I was sleeping literally all day long. I would be in the house, in the dark, with the blinds drawn. I didn't pick up my phone. I would go to school, and then I would come back home, and I would just lay on the couch. My grades were starting to suffer. I couldn't focus. I told my dad one day, "Dad, something is different. Something is changing in me." He said, "I think you should go see a psychologist."

I went to see a psychologist, and she asked questions about my childhood, and did diagnostic tests. I went back a week later, and I thought she was just going to say, "You just need more sleep," or, "You need to go shopping and you'll feel better."

She said, "I'm sorry to tell you, but what you have is not curable — but it's treatable. You have clinical depression, ADHD, and a math and a reading disorder. You're going to have to take medicine for the rest of your life."

I was broken. I went to the car and I cried for about an hour and a half. I told my dad. And I probably cried for another two or three days in bed. That's when my parents said, "We're going to have to get you back home." Because I was 20, I was lost, I was confused, I was embarrassed, and I honestly thought my life was over. At that time, there was such a stigma around mental health. I was too ashamed to even tell anyone.

Jade Mathis
Jade Mathis

I moved home to Detroit, where I was born and raised. My dad told me to sit out of school a semester, but I snuck behind his back and enrolled in a local college. You have parents, you have friends, but you're the one with the diagnosis, so no one can relate but you. And nobody knows what you're feeling but you. And I said, "I'm going to fight. I'm not going to let this diagnosis defeat or define me."

I was a C-student, to be generous; my grades were really awful because of depression. But I wanted to do something only smart people could do, like doctors or lawyers. I wanted to go into a field where my platform will allow me to give people second chances, and show them no matter what you're going through, or what you've been through, you can still be successful.

I took the LSAT and I failed miserably. The second time, I did even worse — I didn't think it was possible. I applied to six law schools, they all told me no. I continued to apply and finally got in one law school, and I almost got kicked out. I was almost discharged after my first semester, because I just had a difficult time adjusting.

I started off part-time. I intentionally took evening classes, because with depression, it's really difficult to get up in the morning. I would study in the library all night until 7:00 a.m., go home and sleep, and then go to class that evening. I struggled through law school and I battled depression. And then after law school, I took the bar exam the first time, and when I failed, it shut me down. I remember I called my dad and I said, "I think I'm about to go check in somewhere." I took it really, really rough the first time I failed it. All the people around me were passing and going on to be lawyers.

It took me six times to pass the bar. I failed it five times, three years consecutively. Each time I failed, I would go into a very deep depression — I would literally be debilitated —to the point where my parents had to call and say, "If you don't answer this phone, we are sending the police to your door."

I would pull myself out and just say, "Jade, you're going to do this."

I found out that I failed the bar exam for the fifth time in November 2014, and the doctor found a lump on my thyroid a week later.

I remember crying while I was studying, and having dried up tears all over my legal books and saying, "Well, if I'm going to die, it doesn't matter anyway. If I have cancer, it doesn't matter anyway. I may not live to be an attorney." But I told myself, "Just stay focused."

I found out I passed the bar on Monday May 6, 2015, and I had my surgery the next day. The biopsies were inconclusive, so they just went ahead and removed two-thirds of my thyroid. I was 29.

When I finally passed the bar, I was working as a paralegal at the time. The State's Attorney reached out to me to say she'd been watching me try again and again, and recommended me to be part of implementing the Back on Track program [which allows attorneys to recommend people facing certain types of criminal charges to follow an intensive month prison diversion program instead].

A lot of the people in the criminal justice system had a mental health issue. Instead of being treated or having treatment, they were being punished. They're in jail. Thirty percent of the people incarcerated currently have a mental health diagnosis, but they're suffering.

I still have to pay attention to my own mental health as well; in Nov. 2019, I took a sabbatical because prosecution was making me sadder. I went out under FMLA and I had my medication readjusted. And I went to intensive outpatient treatment for the three weeks. I came back refreshed and just felt so much better ... That was honestly one of the best decisions I've ever made. You have to advocate on your own behalf.

Jade Mathis
Jade Mathis

I left my work as assistant state's attorney October 16th, 2021 to go to California and do a reality show with my family, Mathis Family Matters. It is myself, my parents — my father, Judge Mathis, he's been the television judge for over 25 years — and my siblings. It follows my move and my foray into full-time mental health advocacy work.

Mental health is something that we, as African American community members do not want to talk about. Many of us grew up with the "crazy uncle" that stays in the room. That's something that we don't talk about, but everybody suffers with and deals with. When people think about mental illness, they think about people on the side of the street talking to themselves. They don't think about a functioning person who looks "normal."

I still battle with depression on a daily basis — every single day. I honestly don't think that there's a day that goes by that I do not have some type of symptom, but I'm managing and you can manage too.

When the weather changes, I can be depressed. With the ADHD, sometimes my brain is moving faster than I would like it to. I can't focus on a lot of things. It takes me an extensive period of time to get simple tasks done, such as cleaning my house. Even writing a speech. Even to get out of bed, if I don't have the motivation. I still have to get the work done. I still want to inspire other people, but a lot of times it's difficult. The pressure can be heavy. It's just relentless. And the worst part about it is that you never know. Sometimes it's a trigger from a particular thing. Sometimes it's just there and you cannot pinpoint why, but you just feel heavy and it just won't let up.

My self-care looks different than what a lot of people traditionally call "self-care," because with depression, I don't even have the energy sometimes to go fix food. Exercise is almost impossible, but I do journal a lot. I do devotionals every single morning. I honestly rest a lot. When I am not on the road, or I am not working, I need to recharge, because depression is already so debilitating, you have no energy. Sometimes I just sit and sleep and do nothing. I'll catch up on mindless TV to make me laugh. I do have a bike, and I like to bike around the water and go cycling when I am feeling up to it. But sometimes I just stay in the house and I listen to music and journal and just do what makes me happy. A lot of times, that honestly looks like nothing. And that's what I want people to understand: Sometimes it's okay to do nothing. It's okay to just press pause.

Jade Mathis Kenya
Jade Mathis

I want people to see you are not alone, and it's okay. I look forward to inspiring people to remain resilient. That is my mission and my calling and my purpose.

Related Articles