Free Virtual Therapy for People of Color Affected by COVID-19

The COVID-19 Free Virtual Therapy Support Campaign is a Boris L. Henson Foundation (BLHF) effort to raise money for mental health services for communities of color.

free virtual therapy
Taraji P. Henson starred in the 2016 movie Hidden Figures about the key role a group of female African-American mathematicians played in the U.S. space program’s early years. (Image Credit: BLHF)

According to the BLHF, “the campaign was developed to cover the cost for virtual or tele-therapy services by licensed, culturally competent clinicians in our network.” Up to five sessions are covered, and those seeking COVID-related virtual therapy can register with BLHF. The Foundation is seeking donations to support the program (Text NOSTIGMA to 707070), as well culturally competent providers to provide services.

The BLHF was founded in 2018 by actor and mental health advocate Taraji P. Henson and is led by Executive Director Tracie Jade Jenkins. It has seen strong interest in the tele-therapy program since it debuted on April 15. In a Today Show interview, Henson, who most recently has appeared on the television series Empire, said, “We had to shut the server down … that’s how big the need is.” She argues that for many, the hardships imposed by COVID-19 are “added trauma,” and that mental health services are helping “thousands stay alive.”

The BLHF notes, “Social distancing, unemployment, sudden loss, are all drastic changes that can bring, what feels like, unbearable stress and anxiety into anyone’s life.” Unfortunately, many are suffering in silence and isolation, and cost is a significant barrier to African-Americans accessing mental health services. “Having to choose between a meal and mental health is not something that one should ever have to ponder,” notes the foundation.

According to the BLHF, one in five Americans suffer from a mental illness, and African-Americans are the least likely population to seek treatment. Typically, African Americans have been guarded in speaking about mental health issues lest they be stigmatized or perceived as weak or inadequate. Moreover, African-Americans have a history of mental health misdiagnoses, resulting in a mistrust of therapy by many in the community.

BLHF’s goal is to improve mental health care for African Americans, and change perceptions of mental health in the community. To this end it seeks “to ensure cultural competency in caring for African Americans who struggle with mental illness by providing scholarships to African-American students who seek a career in the mental health field; offer mental health services and programs to young people in urban schools; and combat recidivism within the prison system.” Henson named the foundation in honor of her father, Boris Lawrence Henson, who, as a result of service during the Vietnam War suffered mental health challenges. The BLHF states, “We support organizations who educate, celebrate, and make visible the positive impact of mental health wellness.”

One factor likely leading to COVID-19 mental health problems among African Americans is the disproportionate impact of the virus on communities of color. In an April 15 “Viewpoint” piece published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Clyde W. Yancy, M.D, M.Sc. of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine notes the racial disparities in COVID-19 infection. He cites a Johns Hopkins University and American Community Survey study indicating that the COVID infection rate is more than three times higher in 131 predominantly black U.S. counties than in mostly white counties, and the death rate six times greater. Hilary Beard explores some of the reasons behind this disparity in an article in COLORLINES “Ring the Alarm: COVID-19 Presents Grave Danger to Communities of Color.”

The BLHF has published a Directory of Mental Health Providers and Programs serving the African-American Community. While the BLHF is targeting African Americans, many other organizations are also addressing the mental health fall-out of the pandemic, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which has published a downloadable COVID-19 Resource and Information Guide. NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization and has over 600 state organizations and affiliates. Its guide provides a list of resources on topics ranging from stress, anxiety, and isolation, to grieving, feeling unsafe in one’s home, as well as the mental health challenges of incarceration and homelessness.

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Author: Tim Lehnert

Tim Lehnert is a writer and editor who lives in Cranston, Rhode Island. His articles and essays have appeared in the Boston Globe, the Providence Journal, Rhode Island Monthly, the Boston Herald, the Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere. He is the author of the book Rhode Island 101, and has published short fiction for kids and adults in a number of literary journals and magazines. He received an M.A. in Political Science from McGill University, and an M.A. in English from California State University, Northridge.

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