The Black Therapy Fund, a new partnership between the County of Sonoma and two community groups to improve mental health services for Black residents of all ages, is now accepting applications for free mental health counseling.
The fund will provide more than 230 Sonoma County residents with up to 12 free video counseling sessions with culturally competent therapists. The program is managed by the Sonoma County Black Forum in partnership with the NAACP Santa Rosa-Sonoma County Branch.
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors provided $574,200 to launch the initiative, designed to help address the mental health toll on the county’s Black community and a shortage of local Black therapists. It is one of 27 community-based programs allocated funding by the Board last May through the American Rescue Plan Act, which prioritized local programs intended to help those most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly low-income communities and communities of color.
According to a county announcement about the fund, studies have found COVID-19 took a disproportionate toll on Black Americans, in part because of the concentration of Black people working in essential service jobs without benefits such as sick leave. For example, Black people were 2.1 times more likely to be hospitalized and 1.6 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than their white counterparts. In Sonoma County, Black people, on average, die 10 years earlier than white people, the Portrait of Sonoma 2021 Update shows.
“The legacy of slavery, racial terror, discrimination and bias, and all of the interlocking systems have impacted Black communities for generations,” D’mitra Smith, program manager of the Black Therapy Fund, said in the announcement. “We hope this program will not only improve the mental wellbeing of our Black community, but will also be followed by many more investments in Black futures in Sonoma County.”
A series of highly-publicized police killings of Black people across the United States have adversely affected the mental health of many Black Americans, studies have found. The stress and trauma of these repeated tragedies can lead to anxiety, depression and other physical and emotional challenges.
“Repeated racism and discrimination deeply damages the physical and mental health of the Black community,” said Alegría De La Cruz, director of the county’s Office of Equity, in the press release. “Our government institutions have harmed Black people in Sonoma County through redlining, creation and enforcement of racially restrictive covenants, underfunding of public schools for generations, disinvestment in communities and neighborhoods of color, grossly disproportional policing, detention, incarceration, and sentencing, and more. Ensuring that culturally responsive mental health services provided by Black people for Black people will help the Black community address these harms and heal.”
Participants in the program will receive up to 12 free telehealth counseling sessions with culturally competent therapists from On the Margins, a local racial equity-focused nonprofit, Oakland nonprofit Sankofa Holistic Counseling Services, and others.
Approximately 20% of the spots in the Black Therapy Fund program are filled. Of those, 70% reported losing employment, income and or housing due to COVID-19, and 20 percent are unsheltered. Many reported experiencing PTSD, anxiety, depression, and significant worries about housing and employment.
Those interested in free therapy via the Black Therapy Fund can apply online at https://form.jotform.com/221794624969068. Patients can access the care they need quickly through the streamlined application process. The fund will accept applications until the roster is full. Learn more by viewing a video on the Black Therapy Fund.