Specialized Mental Health Services Spell Better Care for Underserved Communities

Photo: Getty / Alex Farfuri; Art: W+G Creative
All parts of wellness had a shake up this year—how we work out, what we eat, the products we put on our faces, the way we rest—and the reverberations of those changes will be felt into 2021 and beyond. Here's how the innovations born of this year will usher us into the future.

One-size-fits-all doesn’t work when it comes to mental health. The challenges that an individual faces need nuanced care and an approach that takes into account their background and lived experience. Access to this sort of culturally competent support is the missing piece of the mental health-care puzzle, says Sinikiwe Dhliwayo, founder of BIPOC-focused wellness communities Naaya and Black Folks Breathing. And in 2021, we’ll see more mental health apps, online platforms, and expert directories aimed at addressing the needs of specific communities—communities that have largely been marginalized, underserved, or completely left out of the mental health conversation—come to the forefront.

Funding for mental-health-focused startups is booming: Mental health startups, in general, have secured $1 billion in funding in the first half of 2020 alone, according to  CB insights, with early-stage startups addressing specific mental health needs taking a large chunk of that cash in order to grow in the coming year. Real, for example, is a membership service that offers non-traditional mental health approaches for nonbinary and women patients that raised $6 million in July. And Hurdle, a teletherapy platform for people of color (rebranded in August 2020 from Henry Health), was selected as one of nine startups to receive funding from Morgan Stanley’s Multicultural Innovation Lab this year.

Exhale, which launched in August, is the first emotional well-being app designed by Black, Indigenous, and women of color (BIWOC) for BIWOC. “Exhale was ideated when I asked myself: How am I taking care of us?” says founder Katara McCarty. “By teaching BIWOC how to rid their nervous systems of trauma, I can do something about the [health] disparities. I can help them hit the pause button and heal our collective hurt.” McCarty hopes to launch a Spanish-language version of the app to reach even more BIWOC, and has plans to launch new apps in 2021 for other communities, including one focused on helping Black and brown children address their trauma.

Earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic, Sad Girls Club, a non-profit dedicated to creating community and diminishing stigma around mental health for women of color, launched “Soul Sessions,” where for every $100 raised up to 10 community members get the opportunity to heal in a safe space with an accredited wellness professional. And on December 12, founder Elyse Fox says Sad Girls Club will host a telethon with the goal of raising $250,000 to fund more new projects in 2021 and beyond.

Meanwhile, community-based care platforms and directories, like BEAM (which just expanded to include wellness practitioners beyond therapists), Therapy for Black GirlsShe Matters (with an app coming in 2021), and Therapy for Latinx, offer resources for people to find therapists of similar backgrounds. (As it stands, 86 percent of therapists are white.) The app AYANA Therapy takes this one step further, working through employers to give employees access to therapy practitioners of diverse backgrounds.

McCarty knows how powerful being seen, included, and understood is for anyone looking for help with their mental health. “Another response that we've gotten from women: ‘[Exhale] has come at the right time. It's saying the right thing that I needed to hear that's encouraging and uplifting, and it makes me feel like I'm not alone.’ That's been really good,” she says. Essentially, when you try to speak to everyone, you speak to no one. And as we enter 2021 and mental health startup funding continues to boom, alongside the projected growth of mental health apps, we’ll see more tailored options for those looking for them, particularly for BIPOC.

Explore the rest of our 2021 Wellness Trends.

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