In the midst of a mental health crisis, these Pittsburgh groups are stepping up
Before the pandemic, society was already experiencing a mental health crisis. Now it’s even worse. An increase in demand, combined with an insufficient number of providers and high treatment costs, can make it difficult to access services.
Where traditional health systems are lagging behind, community groups intervene. From therapy to Black Pittsburghers and new parents to creating virtual community healing spaces, here’s how three Pittsburgh organizations are filling the need.
Last spring, two and a half months after the start of the pandemic and six days after a Minneapolis cop murdered George Floyd, Julius Boatwright posted an offer on his personal Facebook page. If a black man in Pittsburgh needed therapy but couldn’t pay, Steel Smiling would try to help.
âI think, a couple like, a few shares, a few people will reach out,â said Boatwright, founder of the nonprofit Black mental health. Smiling Steel. “It has definitely become a Pittsburgh virus.”
The post has been shared over 500 times. Without a prompt, donations began running on Steel Smiling’s GoFundMe page – eventually raising over $ 120,000 for what is now the Black Mental Health Fund. Since then, the organization has received around 300 referrals, Boatwright estimates. Most are from Pittsburgh, although some have come from all over the United States and as far away as the Dominican Republic.
India Renae Hunter, then a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, was one of them. After struggling to find a therapist who accepts Medicaid, Hunter contacted Steel Smiling last June. âFrom there, the process was really easy,â she said. In July, she was put in contact with a therapist through the Black Mental Health Fund. They now talk to each other on the phone once a week. âShe’s been very helpful to me,â Hunter said.
Donations, as well as the support of several foundations *, helped finance the work of Steel Smiling. But there is a challenge: the limited number of black mental health professionals in Pittsburgh. âIt’s great that more people are reaching out, but now there aren’t enough black therapists to meet the need,â Boatwright said.
Wait times for contacting a therapist can vary from one week to three months. So, last month, the organization launched a new program. During the weekly pre-treatment experience sessions, individuals can learn about therapy, attend group support sessions, or do activities like gardening and yoga. The goal is to provide support, free of charge, while people wait for services.
âWe know it’s not like you call on Monday and are in therapy on Tuesday,â Boatwright said.
Learn more about The site of Steel Souriant.
From infertility to postpartum depression, having a baby can be traumatic. Yet, quality reproductive mental health services are often difficult to access. Many providers are untrained in reproductive mental health and may ignore family concerns, said Jodie, a Pittsburgh-based therapist. Hnatkovich. Therapy can be expensive, even with insurance. And many families lack transportation and child care.
This is why in 2019, Hnatkovich and three of his peers founded Advanced allies for equity in mental and reproductive health, a nonprofit organization that trains providers in reproductive mental health and covers the costs of therapy, transportation, and childcare for families, using donation money and training products. So far, the organization has trained 25 providers and funded therapy for four families. âCaring for families and parents with young children is so vital,â Hnatkovich said. âMental health care for a family member has an impact on that family cycle for a lifetime. ”
Throughout the eight-month training course for mental health care providers, participants are educated on topics such as systemic racism and alliances, LGBTQ parenting, and postpartum family support. The next cohort, which will start in September, will be open to mental health care providers as well as obstetrician-gynecologists, doulas and social workers – “any midwife,” Hnatkovich said.
Hnatkovich hopes the organization can help eliminate loss and preventable trauma in the childbearing years. âHelping pregnant women to feelâ¦ as if they are allowed to speak out and that when they speak they are heardâ.
Learn more at Forward Allies website.
Collaborative Visible Hands
“Balanced.” “Recognition.” “Community.”
These are just a few of the words that Visible Hands Collaborative attendees added to a word collage describing their experience of the June 10 meeting. The collaborative, which meets every Thursday evening on Zoom, practices integrative community therapy [ICT], a group therapy method created in Brazil to increase access to mental health in low-income communities.
The collaboration began when Alice Thompson, a medical student, became interested in ICTs during the pandemic. After Thompson participated in a Swiss-based ICT virtual group, she and her father, Dr Kenneth Thompson, received a grant from the Staunton Farm Foundation to fund the first ICT training in the United States. Thirty-five people, about half of them in Pittsburgh, have been trained to lead their own groups.
Each 90-minute meeting is structured the same way. The group begins by sharing “celebrations” or good things that are happening in their life. Then, after a brief musical interlude, dancing encouraged, participants can share a problem, or ârockâ, that they are facing. The group votes on a rock to focus on during the meeting and spends time in the workshop offering tips, related experiences, quotes and more.
âMuch of the power comes from just hearing other people talk about their own experiences with the same type of challenges. Because a lot of times when we feel depressed, lonely, or isolated, we can find ourselves stuck feeling like we’re the only ones feeling that way, âThompson said.
The âspiritâ of ICT is what sets it apart from other forms of group therapy, said Lem Huntington, mental health case manager and collaboration participant. “ICT evokes a kind of party and fun vibe, rather than a dark one, you know, here’s another day to lament our woes,” he said. âHe contextualizes people’s problems in a search for solutions.
Unlike traditional mental health care, ICT is community based and does not require health insurance or the ability to pay. “It’s a middle ground where [meetings] are free to access and open to anyone who wishes to join, âsaid Thompson. âSo there really is no limit. “
Learn more about Visible Hands Collaborative website.
* Foundations supporting Steel Smiling include the Staunton Farm Foundation, the Hillman Family Foundations and the RK Mellon Foundation. PublicSource separately receives support from these foundations.
This story has been verified by Chris Hippensteel.
Mental health reporting was made possible with funding from the Staunton Farm Foundation, but decisions about news are made independently by PublicSource and not on the basis of donor support.