Discussions about mental health in America are evolving. There is a mental health crisis growing in the wake of Covid-19. This ‘long tail’ of the pandemic is forcing the country to grapple with the surging demand for mental health services. Parallel to this, policymakers are connecting the dots when it comes to acknowledging racism as a public mental health crisis. At the heart of this perfect storm? Underserved Black and Brown communities living in mental health deserts. In a special series, Hurdle offers up three examples of how its community partnerships can help quell this perfect storm. Read Part I: The Role of the Church in Improving Mental Wellness.
For part two of this series, we sat down with Ciera Daniel, Co-founder of Baltimore-based Young Kings Leadership Academy (YKLA) to talk about the organization’s novel approach to integrating mental health services in their urban education program. YKLA serves Black male middle school students in Baltimore and illuminates their full potential by providing unique learning opportunities beyond the classroom. Prior to COVID-19, YKLA supported students in the school setting by providing academic interventions and unique leadership experiences in a risk-free learning environment. Last year, they began transitioning their model to meet the demands of the changes that COVID-19 has caused. As a part of YKLA’s transition, Daniel and Co-founder Rudy Lee Daniel III, M.Div, leveraged Hurdle’s culturally relevant teletherapy platform to address the students’ growing need for mental health services during the pandemic. As schools begin to open their brick n’ motor doors, the YKLA-Hurdle partnership offers a model for how to integrate culturally relevant therapy and counseling services for marginalized communities.
Daniel: I came across Hurdle through an Instagram ad. I was attracted to their approach to culturally relevant counseling and followed them on social media.
At YKLA, we serve Black male middle school students in Baltimore, which is a very specialized demographic that has different needs than the general male adolescent population. Research on adolescent development of youth in urban areas has shown that many teachers in America’s urban areas lack the first-hand experience needed to connect with their Black male students. Additionally, it is well-documented that from Kindergarten to twelfth grade, Black students, and Black male students, in particular, are more likely to receive disproportionate behavior infractions caused by implicit bias in school, unlike their white counterparts. At the same time, there is a dearth of counselors and therapists who are properly trained to support Black male students through authentic connection and address ‘racially provocative’ and culturally relevant topics. As a result, from the counselor’s office to the classroom, Black students — Black male students, in particular — learn to conceal their culture and their challenges. Combined, this creates a high-risk learning environment for them and higher rates of missed or terminated counseling sessions. Like so many other areas of racial disparity, the pandemic only intensified this challenge. In the spring of 2020, we decided to lean into our mental health service offerings for students when the pandemic hit. We knew we were going to need access to the type of therapists Hurdle offers — therapists that are licensed, background checked, and receive ongoing evidence-based training to improve cultural humility and responsiveness. So, we reached out.
Daniel: When the coronavirus hit, we did a needs assessment, surveying the families of YKLA students. One of the clearest takeaways from this assessment was the number of students and parents who said they wanted mental health services — 94% of them expressed this need. Many of the students were showing signs of disengagement at home. In this same survey, parents indicated a strong preference for their kids to have access to Black male mentors. Parents felt like their kids would be more inclined to open up to a mentor or counselor who could honor their culture and understood their experience more intimately than someone who did not come from a similar background. This presented a great opportunity to partner with Hurdle.
We reached out to the Hurdle team and collaborated with them to create a user-friendly landing page for students and parents to sign up for mental health and wellness sessions with their network of therapists and counselors. YKLA covered the cost for the sessions if the families didn’t have health insurance and couldn’t afford to pay, or if their health insurance didn’t cover things like this. All they had to do was go to the landing page to sign up, and indicate their needs and preferences with regards to the type of counselor or therapist. Additionally, Hurdle’s team helped YKLA identify key mental health indicators that could be affecting students’ academic life. We collaborated with Hurdle to create an anonymous, HIPAA-compliant assessment that outlined areas we should monitor in order to determine how best to support the students.