With Christmas approaching, the holiday season can be a time filled with joyful gatherings with family and friends. For some, however, the holiday season can bring loneliness and take a toll on one’s mental health.
Candid conversations around mental health have grown over the last few years as people have struggled with the emotional, mental and physical impacts of the pandemic and subsequent effects of COVID-19.
This month, Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA)/TILE and Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE) released a historic statewide poll and report on the current state of mental health for Black and Latina women in California.
“We have known that racism and discrimination take a toll on the mental health of our communities, and now we must factor in the disproportionate and lingering effects of the pandemic on communities of color,” said LaNiece Jones, Executive Director of BWOPA, in a statement.
“What matters now is that we don’t sweep these added challenges aside, but treat these barriers in mental health care for what they are, a crisis in care that must be urgently addressed.”
The survey, conducted by EVITARUS, polled 800 California women who identify as Black, African American and/or Hispanic/Latina. The report found that 94% of respondents place a high priority on “increasing awareness among Black and Latina women about the benefits of seeking help or support.” But, about 62% of the participants reported having mental health concerns for which they did not seek care.
A time for support and treatment
Camille Lewis, a licensed clinical social worker based in Grand Terrace, said that with everything going on — navigating life in a pandemic, ongoing racial tension and a precarious economy — there are a lot of mental health concerns in society and within communities.
“I think now, more than ever, we’re at a time where we need support, but we also need to be treated for those things,” Lewis said. Lewis has been practicing therapy in support of various organizations since 2015.
While Lewis has only been working independently within a private practice for two years, she explained that in the last three to five years she has noticed a shift in society where people have been more open to seeking mental health treatment as it becomes more normalized.
Lewis’ caseload is primarily full of women of color which she said she “loves to see.” With the clients she supports, Lewis said it’s really clear how important it is to have clinicians of color.
“Because people in our community are reaching out more, and when you’re reaching out about vulnerable topics, you need to feel as safe as possible,” Lewis said. “And the more you can have in common with someone, the easier it is to feel safe with them.”
A 2018 report published by the University of San Francisco’s Healthforce Center and funded by the California Health Care Foundation (CHCF) reported that while the state has more than 80,000 licensed behavioral health professionals, they are not distributed evenly across the state nor does the workforce reflect the racial/ethnic diversity or gender composition of the state’s population.
“There are a lot of benefits to seeking someone who has a shared identity with you. And for Black women, I think some of those [benefits] are having somebody who has an intimate and personal understanding of some of the societal pressures that come along with being a Black woman, as well as all the challenges that come along with being a Black woman, specifically — and there are several that are exclusive to this population.”
According to the joint survey released by BWOPA/TILE and HOPE, 69% of the participants reported that their experiences with racism or discrimination negatively impacted their emotional well-being or mental health. Additionally, the report noted that 52% of the respondents said it is difficult to find a counselor, therapist or mental health care provider who shares their values or comes from a similar background.
Lewis explained that within the therapeutic community there has been more of a push for cultural competency and recognizing personal biases about different groups so that clients are not stereotyped when seeking help.
Coping with the stress of expectations
“In a lot of minority households, there are certain behaviors and things that are so normalized that we don’t even recognize it as a mental health concern,” Lewis stated. “Like a lot of people of color struggle with anxiety, [and] a lot of it comes from the expectations within the family or some of the cultural norms or expectations.”
Many women come from communities that uphold myths such as “the strong Black woman” or “marianismo” (an idealized gender role that upholds self-sacrifice and submissiveness) in Hispanic culture, both of which impact one’s identity and the need to seek professional mental health support.
“Mental health has really just always been seen as a weakness, or anything emotional has been viewed as a weakness in our communities,” Lewis said. “So, we tend to stay far, far away from things that are associated with emotional things while we carry the emotional burden of society on our backs.”
The stigma around seeking help for mental health is just one barrier that keeps Black and Latina women from seeking professional assistance. The joint report noted other barriers including the disproportionate number of Black and Latina mental health professionals (just 4% of active psychiatrists practicing in California are Latino and only 2% are Black); difficulty accessing free or low-cost services; and issues with their insurance providers covering the cost of mental health services.
“Our research draws a direct line between the challenges in accessing mental health care for Latinas and Black women to the shortage of mental health professionals that share our backgrounds,” said Helen Torres, CEO of HOPE, in a statement.
“The data is a call to action for healthcare providers and educational institutions to address the negative impacts of a healthcare workforce that does not represent the communities it serves. We must take steps to close the representation gap and provide better care to all.”
Insurance coverage for mental health
Lewis explained that dealing with insurance providers can be frustrating because they reserve the right to be selective and picky about what services they will and won’t cover, or what they deem medically necessary. She said this can bring along fears of being misdiagnosed because “basically, the way you get the best coverage is like the more you have wrong with you, then the more sessions they’ll approve for you.”
Therapy sessions can range anywhere from $80 to $200 per hour depending on the type of therapy and the mental health professional providing the service. Lewis said she has a sliding scale for clients, but lowering her prices can be tricky because she has to make a living for herself.
Over the last few years, several nonprofit organizations and online platforms dedicated to disseminating mental health resources have materialized. The founders of these organizations have curated and created directories of Black, Indigenous and Latina/x mental health professionals, resource guides and in some instances offer free or low-cost virtual therapy options.
Here are some mental health organizations and websites specifically dedicated to support Black and Latina/x women:
The Loveland Foundation was created in 2018 by Rachel Cargle as a result of her popular birthday wish fundraiser, Therapy for Black Women and Girls which raised more than $250,000. The foundation’s mission is to “bring opportunity and healing to communities of color” through fellowships, residency programs, listening tours and a therapy fund that helps provide financial assistance to Black women and girls who seek therapy.
Through partnerships with other mental health organizations, the Loveland Therapy Fund provides recipients with a list of mental health professionals who provide “high quality, culturally competent services” across the country.
Those interested in receiving cost-free therapy can sign up for the Loveland Therapy Fund, which accepts recipients on a quarterly basis. If the recipient is chosen, they can receive a total of 12 vouchers.
“While at Loveland we do not provide therapists or schedule participant therapy sessions, we do provide directories that can be used as a resource to find a therapist. Vouchers can be used with any therapist in the United States that chooses to accept them and if a therapist does not accept them we do offer direct reimbursement to all recipients of Loveland Vouchers,” the foundation noted.
Therapy for Black Girls is an online platform dedicated to encouraging the mental wellness of Black women and girls. Created by Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed psychologist, speaker and the host of popular mental health podcast, Therapy for Black Girls.
The website includes blog posts with supportive guides and discussions regarding mental health and how to cope, includes a directory of Black therapists that offer virtual and/or in-person services across the U.S.
Those seeking therapists can narrow their search by location, specialty and if the therapists accept new clients. Therapists offering services in the Inland Empire include Patrice N. Douglas of Empire Counseling (who accepts local insurance providers) and Ubuntu Psychological Services, based in Corona.
Inspired by Dr. Joy Bradford’s Therapy for Black Girls, Brandie Carlos sought to develop specific resources for members of the Latinx community. She found none, so she began building a directory of therapists, curating resources and stories from the community to launch Therapy for Latinx, an online platform that provides resources to those seeking mental health professionals and tools.
The directory contains more than 500 listed therapists and mental health providers across the U.S., including approximately 200 therapists in California including Alexandria Perry, a Spanish-speaking therapist at The Center of Resiliency Therapy and Counseling.
Therapy for Latinx also provides links to resources such as online mental health screening tests, book recommendations and national resources.
Founded by Elyse Fox in February 2017, after she released a documentary film about her life with depression, the Sad Girls Club is a nonprofit organization that is both an online platform and an in-person, real life community committed to bring girls together who are battling mental illnesses.
Services include a free online chat room, available year-round. The “Not Your Average” chat room is a “culturally informed” digital group therapy session for millennial and gen Z women, men, boys and girls around the world. Each session is led by a mental health professional.
Sad Girls Club also seeks to increase the number of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) therapists by building a directory of therapists as part of Remedy, a quarterly therapy scholarship that will support communities of color with one on one talk therapy. The goal is to provide communities of color in need with more therapists from similar cultural backgrounds.
Adriana Alejandre founded Latinx Therapy in 2018 with the mission to destigmatize mental health in the Latinx community.
Latinx Therapy provides resources for those seeking mental health support such as podcasts, bilingual reading resources and apps. Additionally, the website includes a curated directory of therapists, 98% of which are Spanish speakers.