Sisters Connect Mental Health Collaborative Ambassador Initiative

Jacqueline Hill, Senior Policy Advisor Pittsburgh-Mon Valley BWR

Pauline Long, Ph.D., Social Media Consultant, Pittsburgh-Mon Valley BWR

Rev. Judith C. Moore, Ph.D., Founder Sisters Saving Ourselves Now/Convener of Pittsburgh-Mon Valley BWR

In 2019, Stanlee Allyn Holbrook, 26 stopped her car on the Homestead Grays bridge and left three children inside the vehicle, walked to the rail, and jumped to her death. 

There is taboo in the black community that if you seek mental health services that you are “crazy” a long-held belief that has caused great harm to generations of black families. However, with today’s flow of mental health information via social media and the internet, the media’s highly publicized online therapist, and more people speaking openly about seeing their therapist, the perception is beginning to somewhat shift. 

We believe if more services were put in reach of Black Women along with helping them to understand how these services can transform their lives for the better, will improve both the mental and physical health of Black Women and their families. It would be comprised of mental health professionals, major healthcare providers and Insurers, community-based healthcare centers, grassroot organizations, local, state funded agencies and a range of healthcare professionals, and most importantly the women who would be served. 

We ultimately would like to see an improved delivery system of mental health care services designed to meet the needs and concerns of Black Women that is easily accessible and affordable. This system must take in consideration the many stressors, trauma, and lifestyle of these women to truly address the needs.

In reviewing the problem, we noted that many of the mental health professionals of color are not included in the large healthcare system’s network. The specific reason at this time is unknown; however, we do know that the process to get into these systems is cumbersome and burdensome for small mental health practitioners who could readily relate and address the issues of these clients. This is a crucial point in correcting this system which continues to be a cultural barrier. A client can readily identify with someone of her race and gender who understands their cultural norms. We are calling on more inclusive therapists and the Mental Health Ambassador Initiative.

This program would be designed to teach Black Women how to access services that exist for them and their families, particularly school age children.  Additionally, information needs to be disseminated to educate medical professionals, make internal and external changes to their health care facilities and application of programs concerning the diagnostic treatment of Black Women and their families.  Finally, devise special help methods for family caregivers of individuals with mental health problems.

Mental Health Ambassadors will be responsible for providing support, information and resources to individuals dealing with mental health issues. Ambassadors will be responsible for helping individuals navigate the healthcare system and make appropriate referrals to mental healthcare providers as needed. Ambassadors will then highlight the availability of services and resources in the community, when necessary for individuals to seek help when needed and incorporate a digital platform for follow ups.

Ambassador Impact:

  • Raise awareness and reduce stigma regarding mental health.
  • Help individuals learn what it is like to live with a mental illness by listening to someone who understands what they may be going through.
  • Provide support needed to create and maintain healthy relationships with family, in the workplace and community.
  • Share experiences that help prevent stigma and help individuals understand what living with mental illness is like for those experiencing it firsthand.
  • Give voice to individuals who would otherwise not have one, speak on behalf of those who cannot.

Long-term goal would be to partner with community-based health centers, along with and reaching out to other potential partners. These centers would provide on the spot mental health counseling, down time to regenerate, social interaction with other women, job referrals and training, soft-skills training and computer literacy as well as making referrals for other services that may be needed. 

In closing, our effort through the collaborative is to create a mental health care delivery system that meets and serves the needs of Black Women. It is critical that this system be overhauled; the lives of thousands of children are dependent on the mental health of their mothers and caregivers. It is an urgent and pressing need that is long overdue.