Sydel Curry-Lee on mental health and her faith: 'Jesus made therapists'

·Wellness Editor
·6 min read
Sydel Curry-Lee is speaking out on mental health in her new Dear Media podcast. (Photo: Harleen Sethi; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Sydel Curry-Lee is speaking out on mental health in her new Dear Media podcast. (Photo: Harleen Sethi; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

Sydel Curry-Lee didn't grow up in a house where mental health was part of the conversation. "I grew up in a very Christian faith-based home. I was raised in the church. I was raised in a Black family," the mental health advocate and entrepreneur shares with Yahoo Life. "Mental health wasn't really talked about that much in my family at all."

The daughter of former NBA star Dell Curry and college volleyball star Sonya Curry — and yes, sister to hoopsters Steph and Seth Curry — Curry-Lee was on an athlete's trajectory herself before a series of concussions forced her to step away from the volleyball court and reevaluate her goals.

"I firmly believe everything happens for a reason," she shares, adding that when volleyball was no longer her priority she began to think about ways she could use her platform in a positive way that also channeled her passions.

Because Life, her podcast launched with Dear Media, came together from that desire. Diving head first into the topic of mental health, Curry-Lee engages in frank conversations with experts in the field, with a particular focus on the BIPOC community.

"I want people to feel like they are valid in their feelings," Curry-Lee says. Here, she opens up about speaking out on tough topics and shares how she centers her own mental health.

You've said that one of your goals with Because Life is to destigmatize mental health. When did you begin to push back on the idea that mental health shouldn't be talked about?

Mental health wasn't really talked about that much in my family at all. But I had a teammate in college who spoke out about her mental health, and she ended up having to quit the team because it just wasn't helping her. That always stuck with me. She was the first person to really open up and talk about that and really advocate for herself and that really shook me in a cool way. I was going through some of my toughest times in that moment as well.

I didn't talk about my mental health in college at all because I wanted to maintain my reputation of being the fun girl — no problems, great life — and I hid a lot of my mental health challenges. I think my push to really talk openly about my mental health was knowing that I didn't see anyone in the social media space doing so. At that moment — 2016, 2017 — there weren't a lot of people on Instagram or anything talking openly about their mental health. That lack kind of pushed me to be like, "OK, I need to be that for somebody. I want to do that for somebody else. I feel that that's my purpose."

You discuss religion and mental health on the podcast. How do you navigate a question from someone who says "I don't need therapy, I have God"?

Growing up, you would always hear, "Just pray about it, you'll be fine." And I always say, "Yes, 100 percent." A big part of me getting through my day and me being able to do what I do is because I do rely so heavily on my faith. But I also say, "Jesus made therapists." God gave people purpose to be a therapist and to be in the mental health profession to help other people. A lot of people are put on this earth to help us in ways that we can't help ourselves.

It's really difficult for someone who's actually been raised in the church and kind of been programmed to think that if you're feeling depressed or anxious, you're not praying enough. For me, it was very negative. I try to really make religion and my spiritual life my own and make everything positive. I have enough negative things going on in my head as it is. And so if I can use what I've been taught... to be a positive in my life rather than a negative one, that's what I try to do.

What brings you joy?

My family is a big part of my joy — my mom, my dad, my brothers. But my husband and my dogs, it's basically the four of us most of the time. Especially the past year, really being able to spend quality time at home with them, I noticed how just the simple aspect of their presence is just joy. I'm very lucky to be able to have that in my own home.

Connecting with other people and hearing other people's stories and hearing how they have come through and conquered their mental challenges is a new joy that I've found, especially within the podcast. It shows how powerful, but also kind, people can be and how compassionate people can be. I love finding joy and love and compassion in other people.

Do you have a mantra that you follow in your life?  

I actually have it tattooed on my left arm: "My mountains are my mountains." My mantra is "my mountains are my mountains, and I'm the only one who has to go over them." For me that helps me not compare myself or my struggles to someone else's.  

What's the best advice you've ever gotten?

My mom always told me and my brothers just to live in our purpose. Once you find it, hold on to it and never let go because a lot of things can be thrown at you, a lot of things can happen that can skew you from the path you should be on and that can get you confused and going the wrong direction. But if you really rely on your purpose and stick to it, it can take you places that you never thought you would go before.

Do you have any self-care rituals that you try to do every day?

My mornings are really important to me. Every morning I journal, I read my devotion or whatever book I'm reading at the time and have my coffee. That's the number one thing for me. I think starting my morning on the right note is super-important and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but it's just a routine that I can control. I'm a big advocate for rest — that's a big self-care thing for me that I've learned in the past year or two, just how important rest is. I work from home, and sometimes it never turns off. It can keep going all through the day, all through the night. But giving myself a stop time so that I can do something that I enjoy and that's not so stressful or demanding is super-important.

And then skincare, makeup, taking care of my body — that's a huge thing, because that's one of the first things to go when I'm really stressed out. When it's all done and I'm feeling good about myself, I can get more things done and be more productive. So as far as productivity, I've got to do my best to take care of my body.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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