Americans have collectively experienced a mental health crisis due to Covid. Furthermore, some communities have more unmet mental health needs than others. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation:
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the nation’s mental health, with 3 in 10 adults in the U.S. reporting symptoms consistent with depression or anxiety disorder since April 2020. Over 20% of adults reporting poor mental health also report not receiving counseling or therapy during the pandemic. Telehealth has played a particularly significant role in meeting the need for mental health services. Thus far into the pandemic, some private payers have improved coverage for mental health and substance use, removing pre-pandemic restrictions on coverage for these services via telehealth.
Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past several years you undoubtedly know that Minnesota has experienced racial tension. First there was the death of George Floyd in 2020 and a year later the death of a 20-year old man named Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in the town of Brooklyn Center. Beyond the outrage and sense of helplessness there were also those whose mental health was deteriorating due to Covid, lockdowns, isolation, job losses and remote learning. Could telemedicine help people in diverse communities as well?
Kevin Dedner is a black man who became disenchanted with the therapy he was receiving. His therapists seemingly could not relate to what he was telling them about his experience with race. That all changed when he finally switched to a black therapist he could relate to. Dedner wondered if his experience was unique or if there were others like him.
The meeting inspired him to found Hurdle Health, a Washington D.C.-based provider of mental telehealth services that takes experiences such as racism into account to better care for clients. Dedner hired that therapist as the provider’s first chief clinical officer.
The idea that not every patient can relate to every therapist makes sense to me. Patients are diverse, come from diverse backgrounds and have differing life experiences.
Hurdle’s therapists approach their clients knowing they might have different experiences, and ask them questions which make them feel heard, Dedner said.
“Our therapists are trained in a technique that acknowledges that they may not have the bank of experiences to relate completely to the client who’s sitting in front of him.”
Hurdle’s latest initiative is teaming up with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota (BCBSM) to provide mental health counseling services to the town of Brooklyn Center. Brooklyn Center is racially diverse community, approximately one-third of which is African American. Hurdle is providing therapists via telemedicine, while BCBSM agreed to fund the initiative for five years as a community service. The only requirement is to live in Brooklyn Center.
The partnership will include therapists from a variety of backgrounds who reflect the demographics of Brooklyn Center, Dedner said.
Not everyone is a fan of the approach, at least based on the comments to the article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. But, then again, views on therapy are also diverse. The same can be said about therapists. It will be interesting to check back in a year or two to see how well it is working.