Remarkable Woman 2024: Jessica Lowell Mason helps others navigate mental health system

AMHERST, N.Y. (WIVB) — During the month of March, News 4 is recognizing ‘Remarkable Women’ in WNY who are making a difference across the region. Our first showcase is on Jessica Lowell Mason, who creates a safe space for people who have been negatively impacted by the mental health system.

Lowell Mason is a deacon at her church, she started a group that helps people dealing with certain traumas, she’s a PhD candidate at University at Buffalo, and she teaches at UB, Buffalo State and a woman’s prison in Albion.

Leslie Archibald is a former student of Lowell Mason’s Intro to Sexuality Studies course. Archibald said she is disabled and apart of the queer community. Taking the class didn’t just teach her about understanding gender and sexuality, but gave her a safe space to feel supported and understood.

“It’s a way that makes you feel you can be open and trust her,” Archibald said. “She really values each and every students’ contribution to the classroom and that’s really wonderful.”

Lowell Mason said she came out of the closest as a lesbian in 2001.

“That experience was very traumatic both at home and in school,” she said.

Today, Lowell Mason’s teaching, advocacy, and life revolves around hardships that started after that moment.

“My parents put me in therapies that I think were in general, more oriented around trying to convey the message to me that this was some sort of phase … my sexuality was some sort of phase that I could come out of,” she said.

She left her home in Buffalo, moving to Illinois with a partner, and had two wonderful daughters. But she realized running away from home wasn’t the solution, so she came back.

But when she came back, some people around her thought she needed further help, and she was forced into a mental health hospital. She was admitted against her will for ten days.

“This is degradation… this is humiliation… this is the taking apart of someone’s spirit.”

Her family woke up, realizing she wasn’t getting help. And they fought for her release.

“It felt like criminalization experience,” she said.

When she got out, her sister helped her form a literacy group named ‘Mad Women in the Attic.’ The name is based off the work of two feminist theorists: Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar. The group meets monthly and works as a support system for people who have been impacted by the mental health system in negative ways, like Lowell Mason.

“She will fight for you,” Hanna Etu said, the ‘Mad Women in the Attic’ regional literacy director for Rochester.

“Jessica listens really well and fosters an environment on that listening,” Vivian Agnes said, a member of ‘Mad Women in the Attic.’ “She’s always been there.”

“I’m willing to say things that others are not willing to say, because I’ve been forced to,” Lowell Mason said. “I am gay or am lesbian or I’m transgender … therefore I’m mentally ill … that’s really what happened to me.”

Her passion now revolved around changing that perception, and helping others.

Lowell Mason’s friend and coworker, Sue Frawley, nominated her as a ‘Remarkable Woman’ for that advocacy.

“Just people hearing about her path and her truth, I think it can do some good,” Sue Frawley said.

“I know things now from having been on the other side of it,” Lowell Mason said. “And I’m going to use whatever I know to try and make a difference for any single person in the world that I can, whether I’m sitting across from them at the table and just saying, ‘I just see you for you and I’m not going to think of you in terms of labels. I’m just going to think of you in terms of who you want me to see you as.’ That can make all the difference.”

Lowell Mason also coordinates a card-writing campaign every year, sending notes to young people and women who are currently in psychiatric hospitals.

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Kelsey Anderson is an award-winning anchor who came back home to Buffalo in 2018. See more of her work here and follow her on Twitter.

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