In 2014, after watching the Black Girls Rock! TV series, Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed psychologist, created Therapy for Black Girls. “There was so much incredible energy in the room, even through TV, I could feel it. And I wanted to create something with that same type of energy for Black women related to therapy,” said Dr. Joy – as she typically goes by.
Stigma surrounding poor mental health is pervasive within the U.S., but research suggests that it is particularly strong among communities of color
Therapy for Black Girls provides mental health education and support for a powerful, and often underrepresented audience: Black women and girls. Stigma surrounding poor mental health is pervasive within the U.S., but research suggests that it is particularly strong among communities of color, perhaps in part due to their reticence to take on an additional stigmatized identity (e.g., “mentally ill”), distrust in mental healthcare systems, or cultural norms around help-seeking.
One study found that when compared to their white counterparts, Black participants held more negative attitudes towards mental health treatment, and felt less comfortable seeing a mental health professional that was from a different racial background. Therapy for Black Girls seeks to mitigate that stigma and provide Black women a space “to be seen, to be heard, and to be understood.”
The centerpiece of Therapy for Black Girls is a website focused on making mental health education more accessible and relevant for Black women and girls. This psychoeducation seeks to amplify the voices of Black women leaders in mental health, and is brought to life by Dr. Joy’s “delight in using pop culture to illustrate psychological concepts.” For example, a recent blog post uses Disney Pixar’s newest movie Soul – which is only one of four American animated films to feature a Black lead character – to discuss sensitive mental health topics such as the role of relationships, and all-or-nothing thinking.
The power of education and engagement
Long-standing systemic oppression and discrimination within the U.S. has made it harder for marginalized groups, including women of color, to access and receive quality care.
Everyone should have access to effective mental health care. But everyone’s experience with poor mental health is unique and deeply impacted by their identities. Long-standing systemic oppression and discrimination within the U.S. has made it harder for marginalized groups, including women of color, to access and receive quality care. That is why understanding your audience and creating resources that acknowledge their specific needs and lived experience can help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. Therapy for Black Girls is a great example of a powerful mental health initiative because it focuses on three key areas.
First, Therapy for Black Girls educates its audience in a way that addresses their specific needs – in this case, Black women who may feel a sense of stigma related to accessing mental health care, and lack of access to therapists of color. Second, it uses multiple content formats to engage with Black women and girls, in an authentic and relatable voice (including a podcast, blog, and online community). Third, it’s geared towards action. The Yellow Couch Collective – a community for Black women to find support and be their authentic selves – and the Therapist Directory (with over 800 active therapists of color) – provide two opportunities for Black women to build their communities, learn coping skills, and access effective mental health care.
While Therapy for Black Girls was created by a licensed psychologist, some of the very tactics that have made it successful can be employed by benefits and HR leaders who are seeking to improve the mental health of their employees – some of whom may also be suffering from stigma and other barriers to care. Here are some areas to explore:
It is important to acknowledge that within the current social and political environment, people of color are under a higher burden of stress
When employees more fully understand mental health conditions, how they manifest, and what effective treatment options are, they are less likely to hold stigmatized views and more likely to seek care. In an effort to normalize mental health difficulties, communications centered around current events and their impact on mental health can be particularly impactful – a great example is Self Care In The Face of Racial Injustice by Therapy for Black Girls. It is important to acknowledge that within the current social and political environment, people of color are under a higher burden of stress. Providing resources that are tailored for people of color can help normalize care-seeking and increase engagement with support resources. More broadly, employers can share culturally-relevant educational content through broad, multi-channel communication campaigns. By personalizing communications to the company’s unique populations, benefits teams can empower their employees to seek help when needed.
Companies can use training programs to empower managers and non-manager volunteers to recognize when someone is struggling with their mental health and support them. Training programs that discuss how interpersonal and systemic forms of oppression impact mental health – and access to care – can help to foster a more inclusive and responsive care-seeking environment. The benefits team at a Fortune 50 retailer, heard a common refrain from their employees: they did not feel comfortable talking to their manager about mental health. In response, the company created the Mental Health Ally program which trained employees on available mental health resources and the best ways to support their coworkers. Within the first 6 months, 500 employees signed up to be an Ally, and since then the program has continued to grow.
There are several ways a company can normalize mental health conversations, as well as reduce stigma, within existing business processes. For example, if a company has created a manager training program that integrates training on mental health in the workplace, the results of that initiative can be measured during manager effectiveness reviews. Employee onboarding and open enrollment are also key times to surface mental health communications, highlight available resources, host Q&A sessions, and encourage conversations around mental health. As a part of the Yellow Couch Collective, Therapy for Black Girls hosts Q&A sessions with experts to create a safe space for members to ask questions and voice concerns. By simply creating a similar space, employers can encourage conversation and integrate mental health initiatives into their ongoing strategy.
If leadership does not value mental health and support a culture in which discussions on the topic are celebrated and encouraged, employees may be less likely to believe that seeking help is okay – further perpetuating stigma.
If leadership does not value mental health and support a culture in which discussions on the topic are celebrated and encouraged, employees may be less likely to believe that seeking help is okay – further perpetuating stigma. In another initiative at the Fortune 50 retailer, the benefits team ran a stigma campaign, which, amongst other initiatives, featured internal talks around mental health. In one of these talks, a senior leader shared her personal experience with mental health struggles. She was willing to be vulnerable in front of thousands of employees, and set the tone within the company that talking about, and seeking care for, mental health is normal and acceptable.
Next steps for employers
By focusing on mental health education and encouraging engagement with resources, employers can help employees gain a better understanding of mental health, and feel empowered to seek care. While every company cannot create campaigns as targeted as Therapy for Black Girls, the more personalized the education is to the needs of your population, the higher employee engagement will be with available services. To get a better understanding of how your company is currently doing at breaking down stigma through education and engagement, and to get actionable guidance on how to move forward, check out the newest (and totally free) resource, the Mental Health Maturity Index,TM which was created in partnership with clinical experts, Employer Health Innovation Roundtable (EHIR), and over 20 large employers.
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