Shardai Figgures
palmettoreport@gmail.com

(Fort Mill, S.C.) — As LaJoyce Jones was nearing graduation from Winthrop University in 2018, with a master of business administration degree, things seemed to be going well, as she had just found a job and moved into a new apartment.

However, Jones was struggling mentally and emotionally and her closest family was three hours away in her hometown of Charleston, S.C.

“I was going through a lot of mental health issues; depression (and) anxiety,” said Jones, now 25.

Upon graduation, things only got worse, as Jones lost her new job.

“People look on the outside and they see a lot of success, they see a lot of progress, but on the inside and at home, I was struggling quite a bit and I felt that people didn’t really know what my struggles were,” said Jones. 

After three months, she found another job, but she said things still didn’t feel right.

In an effort to create something positive, Jones launched Always and Forever in 2019, an online support group intended to bring awareness to mental health.

“Always and Forever was really birthed out of my pain when I was in grad school,” she said. “I felt there were a lot of college students who simply weren’t aware of mental health or paying attention to it.”

Jones said the group strives to help students who may experience problems related to mental health, which can arise from experiences in college.

The non-profit, which is currently virtual, works to help students who may be struggling by connecting them with resources, such as counseling.

Joelle Shipp, a licensed mental health counselor at MindPath Care Centers in Charlotte who follows Always and Forever online, said she thinks the group is a significant resource for people who are struggling, but need assistance finding help.

“Platforms like hers are really important, especially for people who may not seek mental health services themselves or people who can’t afford mental health services. Realistically they are beneficial for everyone, but they do cost money,” said Shipp.

Shipp said the encouraging content posted on the Always and Forever’s Instagram account can be helpful to those struggling with depression.

Recently, the group has started collaborating with other organizations to expand and serve other people in the community.

Austin Jefferson, the owner of Jennie Mae’s Southern Cuisine in Rock Hill, said he’s worked with Jones in this effort.

“We collaborated for Pathways Community Center in Rock Hill for a community Friendsgiving giveback initiative,” said Jefferson. “She donated several items like toiletries that those in the community could utilize and we provided a free lunch meal that day.”

Jones has also been working to spread the word about Always and Forever via social media and by appearing on podcasts to discuss mental health.

Jarell Taylor — a public speaker, life coach and author of the Taylor Made Mindset — said Jones recently was a guest on his podcast.

“You could tell she was very knowledgeable on the topic. I think more programs, such as this, that aren’t for profit are needed, for not only students but people in general,” said Taylor.