Mental Health Champions: Why & How Alisha Bridges Is Helping To Champion Mental Wellness

Posted on

Taking an active role in driving awareness and sharing my story across social media and online has been a helpful outlet for me. I’ve found confidence and community by becoming a full-time blogger and psoriatic disease advocate.

As a part of our series about Mental Health Champions helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Alisha Bridges.

Alisha Bridges has lived with plaque psoriasis (PsO) and psoriatic arthritis (PsA) for two decades. She encountered a barrage of stigma and misconceptions about her skin and struggled with low self-esteem throughout her youth and adolescence. Since then, Alisha has dedicated her entire life to health advocacy, including working with Janssen on a new type of health movement called Determi-Nation: a group of multidisciplinary, diverse leaders including healthcare providers, patients, and advocates who are working to help stop the cycle of suffering for Black, Hispanic, Asian, Indigenous, and other people of color living with psoriatic disease.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I am from the Great Lake State of the Midwest, also known as Michigan. I grew up in a variety of places there which contributed to my unique experience of having a visible chronic condition.

When I was seven years old, I started experiencing itchy, flaky, inflamed skin and was diagnosed with plaque psoriasis (PsO). I was also diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis (PsA), a form of arthritis that affects some people who have psoriasis and causes joint pain, stiffness, and swelling. Collectively, these conditions are referred to as psoriatic disease.

For most of my childhood, I was 90% covered with itchy, flaky, dry, inflamed skin, and living in state with brutal winters worsened my condition. I felt so uncomfortable about my psoriasis that I’d lie and tell people I had eczema, because it felt like that was easier to understand. I was also in denial. When my PsA would make me feel sore, I would explain it away by blaming it on running around or playing with friends the day before.

Being a Black girl with psoriatic disease made me feel even more isolated. PsO looks different on darker skin, and I’ve seen firsthand that there is a common misconception that Black people are not affected by it. I even went to a doctor who didn’t think I had PsO because my plaques were purple and brown instead of red, which is how they typically appear on white skin. These experiences culminated in mental health challenges — including anxiety and panic attacks — that impacted me throughout my youth.

You are currently leading a social impact organization that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit about what you or your organization are trying to address?

Our healthcare system has a long history of inequitable care, and we also see that people of color fare worse across many of the most important measures of overall health. In psoriatic disease, because there is limited understanding of how PsO and PsA present in people of color, delays in diagnosis and misdiagnosis are common, as well as limited access to diagnostic testing and treatment for people with darker skin.

These disparities can have a significant impact on both the physical and mental health. People of color with PsO and PsA have reported a lower quality of life and greater psychological impact as a result of their conditions compared with white patients. In fact, depression affects about 20 percent of patients with PsA. We also know that many PsO patients suffer from embarrassment due to visible signs of the disease, which can result in low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. According to a study of 127 PsO patients, 9.7 percent of patients wished they were dead at the time of the study, while 5.5 percent had suicidal ideation.

My experience with psoriatic disease as a patient and an advocate brought me to Determi-Nation, a new type of health movement formed by multidisciplinary, diverse leaders including healthcare providers, patients, and advocates like me who are applying their individual backgrounds and invaluable lived experiences to unite behind a shared goal: to help stop the cycle of suffering for Black, Hispanic, Asian, Indigenous, and other people of color living with psoriatic disease.

Together with Janssen, I’m working alongside the other Determi-Nation members to create solutions that will help improve the patient journey from diagnosis to care for people of color. By getting to the right diagnoses earlier and addressing the full care continuum, we believe there will be positive effects on future health outcomes for patients of color living with psoriatic disease.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

The hardest part of growing up with psoriatic disease was the shame and embarrassment that I felt every day. The physical effects were hard, but the impact on my mental health was the most painful. Something as simple as a pool party or a track meet would paralyze me at times because it meant being in a swimsuit or shorts in front of other kids, where my skin would be exposed. There was even a time during drama club at school when the director wouldn’t let me use the same makeup as the other students in our play because of my skin.

It wasn’t until after college that I started to turn to other people with psoriatic disease for support online. I started blogging about my health journey and was surprised to see how my story resonated with other people in the community who were struggling with some of the same challenges. Seeing the positive impact that sharing my story had on others was what inspired me to take back control and look outward, moving away from the shame and embarrassment and toward advocacy and empowerment.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

In 2011, I decided that I was ready to let go of the stigma around my psoriatic disease that I had lived with for so long and wrote a metaphorical “suicide” letter. In the letter, I committed to finally letting go of the part of me that was ashamed to live due to my psoriasis; I knew this was my gateway to building a happier life. The outpouring of support I received from the psoriatic community after sharing my letter was overwhelming, and it was in this moment that I transitioned from a patient to a patient advocate. The National Psoriasis Foundation invited me to their annual volunteer conference, and my journey as an advocate for the psoriatic disease community was officially taking off.

Today, one of my goals as an advocate is to use my platform to help educate dermatologists, rheumatologists, and other healthcare providers about how psoriatic disease affects people of color differently. This is a priority for Determi-Nation, and we’re now creating the solutions to help fill these gaps in education, awareness, and care for diverse communities.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

The journey of life is so unpredictable. I never thought that I would be an advocate for a disease that once had me bury myself deep in shame and fear, but here I am speaking out about the intimate details of what it is like to having psoriasis. When I first joined Determi-Nation, I was excited that I had the chance to witness a variety of perspectives including dermatologists, rheumatologists, researchers, and other patients. This helps my ability to advocate more effectively because I’m able to listen and learn from people with other perspectives, beyond just my own experiences.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

My current dermatologist was the first physician that figured out a treatment plan that actually worked for me. She listened to me and strived to really understand my lifelong experience with psoriasis, from the emotional to the physical, to determine what options would be best for me. She also works very diligently with clinical trials, so she knows the ins and outs of treatments and what will work. I trust her advice and insight tremendously. The process of finding the right treatment plan is not easy, but her expertise helps with the process and she is there to guide me every step of the way.

According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?

At a high level, I think stigma around mental health is deeply rooted in a lack of understanding and fear around these issues. There are also many preconceived and misinformed beliefs around mental health and mental illness that could ultimately be categorized as prejudice. It’s important that we address these stigmas, and I’m happy to see that different stakeholders are working to start tackling biases and misinformation around mental health. I’ve experienced myself how stigma can make people feel isolated and prevents some from getting the help they need. As a society, we all need to do better to change the way we view mental illness.

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?

As individuals, we need to show up for our loved ones and be that support system that they can trust and turn to in times of need. Just reaching out to family and friends to check in can make a big difference. I can come across to others as very confident and empowered, but even I have my bad days where I struggle with my condition. Sometimes a person’s mental health goes beyond what meets the eye, so it’s important that we check in with each other and make the effort to go deeper in our relationships.

As a society, I think we need to go beyond our circle of friends and family and take an active role to advocate about these issues, because it can be easy to stay within our own bubbles. Volunteer with community groups, speak out when you have the platform, or find ways to connect with someone who needs a shoulder to lean on — these seemingly small actions are what it takes to create real systemic change.

What are your 5 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?

First, getting involved in advocacy work to help support others with psoriatic disease has been the key to letting go of my shame and taking care of my emotional wellbeing. Whether I’m connecting with people with the same chronic conditions as me through the National Psoriasis Foundation or collaborating with my peers on how to drive change for people of color through Determi-Nation, these types of projects leave me feeling inspired and empowered. I am choosing to be part of the solution and am proud of our collective contributions to this cause.

Second, taking an active role in driving awareness and sharing my story across social media and online has been a helpful outlet for me. I’ve found confidence and community by becoming a full-time blogger and psoriatic disease advocate.

Third, working to understand myself better through therapy and other methods has been pivotal to my mental and emotional health. Being able to identify anxiety or panic and the reason why it occurs allows me to use the right tools in those moments to self-soothe and manage my emotions appropriately.

Fourth, finding a community who gets it! I was first introduced to advocacy through an online support group. Prior to my discovery, I often questioned if anyone would ever understand what I was going through. I felt alone and as though I was the only person in the world dealing with psoriasis. However, finding others like me changed my entire perspective. It delivered me from hopelessness and inspired me to be my authentic self, regardless of my disease.

Last but not least, making my health a priority by being diligent in finding an effective treatment plan for my psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. When I was first diagnosed in the early 90’s, there weren’t many treatment options for me as a kid. Challenges ranged from financial to being unqualified for certain treatments due to age restrictions. But once I became an adult and learned how to really advocate for myself, I found treatments and strategies for my conditions that work.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?

I am a very spiritual person. My favorite books that encompass my goals on how to approach life are “The Untethered Soul” and “The Power of Now.” These books helped me to shed a lot of preconceived ideas that were embedded in my mind due to society’s standards. I have also been meditating every day since December 2021, which has changed my life tremendously. Meditation allows me to sit with my emotions rather than distracting myself. I find that if I sit with my emotions, I can learn about what I need in certain moments instead of running from them and becoming reactive.

If you could tell other people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

The best thing you can do for society is learning who you are, letting go of expectations, figuring out what brings you joy, and then spending the rest of your life doing it in some capacity. I have been on a journey of deliberate self-discovery and it’s the best thing I could have done in the search for finding ultimate happiness and peace for myself. Once you heal the trauma of your past, it’s easier to let go of shame and interact with the world in front of you from an authentic and positive place.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me on Instagram and Twitter (@alishambridges) or connect with me through my blog, Being Me in My Own Skin. For more information on Determi-Nation, visit

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Mental Health Champions: Why & How Alisha Bridges Is Helping To Champion Mental Wellness was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.