App helps access to Black mental health services

New tech tool will help Black children and youth access mental health services

Black Health Alliance launches Pathways to Care, a database of resources that address specific barriers to care faced by the Black community, with the help of the Capital One Digital for Good program.Author of the article:Naomi Waley  •  Postmedia Content WorksPublishing date:Dec 18, 2020  •  December 18, 2020  •  4 minute read

Black Health Alliance joined forces with volunteer tech talent from Capital One and other organizations during this year’s virtual Digital for Good event. PHOTO BY GETTY IMAGES

Although people around the world have found themselves bound to their homes lately, in some ways, we’ve never been more connected. From COVID-19 responses to the Black Lives Matter protests, 2020 has been full of historic happenings, many of which were organized in cyberspace. If there was ever any doubt in the necessity of an organization’s digital presence, this year has thoroughly dispelled it.

Not all organizations find the shift to digital a simple one though. Especially for mission-driven organizations like charities and nonprofits, harnessing the power of digital for the communities they serve can be a challenge. Making quick pivots requires expertise and resources that aren’t always readily available. To help level the playing field, the Capital One Digital for Good initiative is making it easier for these essential organizations to keep up with the sudden, tidal shift to digital that this year has created.

Black Health Alliance joined forces with volunteer tech talent from Capital One and other organizations during this year’s virtual Digital for Good event. Together with coders and developers, Black Health Alliance is bringing a tool to life, called Pathways to Care, that will help improve access to mental health care for Black youth.

“What we often hear is that young people aren’t going to get care because they’re not receiving the services that they need, so we need to reduce the barriers,”SAYS PAUL BAILEY, INTERIM EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF BLACK HEALTH ALLIANCE.

“One thing that we notice is that with such a large mental healthcare system, when you’re trying to find care for yourself and your family members, it can be really overwhelming and people aren’t sure where to start,” says Tiyondah Fante-Coleman, a researcher on the Black Health Alliance team. “Digital for Good helped us hone in on what the solution could be, and then supported us as we developed the idea out.”

Access to mental healthcare isn’t equal for everyone in Ontario. The average wait time for Black youth looking for mental health support is 16 months. That’s double the average wait time for white youth. What’s more, 50 per cent of the Black youth that do make it into the mental healthcare system have encounters with police before they get care, pointing to a need for more direct connections between the Black community and Ontario mental health services.

It’s issues like these that Pathways to Care is working to mitigate. The solution is a database of mental healthcare resources that address specific barriers to care faced by the Black community. The database content—which includes directories of mental health professionals with relevant cultural expertise, resources for Black LGBTQ+ youth, and healthcare services organized geographically—is curated based on research into community needs conducted and collected by Black Health Alliance.

“What we often hear is that young people aren’t going to get care because they’re not receiving the services that they need, so we need to reduce the barriers. Part of this is creating direct connections to these evidence-based, culturally appropriate services,” says Paul Bailey, interim executive director of Black Health Alliance. Since the mental health support needed by Black youth is nuanced, the specificity of the database’s search function will help reduce time spent by youth and families searching for care.

The tool couldn’t come at a better time, since civil unrest and the untimely deaths of people in the Black community have dominated the news cycle in recent months. In addition to the pressures of the pandemic, Black youth will need special attention and support in the months ahead.

“Over the summer we saw how pervasive racism is. When youth go to get mental healthcare, that doesn’t get left at the door. That reality needs to be reflected in the care that youth receive. That means practitioners need to be able to work with the challenges of Black children and youth,” says Fante-Coleman.

The Pathways to Care database is part of a larger five-year plan to improve care for Black communities. In the future, Black Health Alliance hopes to expand the territories covered by the database, which currently spans the GTA, to regions throughout Southern Ontario. They also plan to add an interactive map feature for ease of use on mobile devices. It’s one more step the team is taking to remove as many barriers to access as possible through the portal.

Kevin Chan, vice president and head of digital strategy at Capital One Canada, is thrilled that his team was able to help bring this solution to life for Black Health Alliance. “The goal of Digital for Good is to help charities go digital so they can help more Canadians. In this virtual world we’re living in, digital tools are more essential than ever for organizations like Black Health Alliance to do their critical work,” says Chan. “At Capital One we are privileged to work with people who not only have these skills but want to volunteer their time to help bridge the gap for these worthy causes.”

Image from 2019 Digital for Good event as the 2020 event was held virtually. PHOTO BY SUPPLIED

Bailey and Fante-Coleman reflect fondly on their Digital for Good experience. “Our charity sponsor, Janine Clarke from Capital One, was fantastic. They did a good job pairing us with people who really understand what our community needs. It was amazing to have someone with us who already has that basis of understanding,” says Bailey.

The Pathways to Care database will soon be ready for use and will be housed on the Black Health Alliance website. Integrating this database will help accelerate Black Health Alliance’s mission to create a more equitable healthcare system.

For more information, visit: https://www.digitalforgood.com/ and https://blackhealthalliance.ca/.

Source: National Post

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