Mental health advocates stress need for more diverse therapists

Therapist Chantel Cohen (left) and Jermail Shelton, founder of the nonprofit, Undugu. (Photos courtesy of Cohen and Shelton)

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, close to 5 million Georgians live in a community that doesn’t have enough mental health professionals and more than 1.4 million Georgians have a mental health condition. That’s more than twice the population of Atlanta.

But there’s a statistic that has therapist Chantel Cohen even more concerned: the lack of diversity among therapists. She says only 4% of therapists in America are Black and that there’s a mental health crisis among underrepresented communities in Atlanta and nationwide.

Chantel says there are some financial barriers for some people of color who are considering a career in the mental health space and that there are flaws in the way people are paid.

“Often times people [with a master’s degree] are paid $16-$25 an hour,” said Cohen. “Oftentimes, people of color, we need to start making money so we can pay back those student loans. So, what ends up happening is, we end up getting the degrees but going on to a different career.”

Cohen had to leave an agency because she couldn’t afford to pay for necessities.

Jermail Shelton joined Cohen as a guest on Thursday’s “Closer Look.” He’s the founder of the nonprofit, Undugu, which in Swahili means “brotherhood.” Shelton says the organization creates a safe space for Black men to talk about their life experiences and address their mental health.

He says there’s also a financial burden for potential patients in communities of color who have to choose between paying bills or seeking help for their mental health.

“So, what we’ve decided to do is go more of the group therapy route,” said Shelton. “And create a safe space inside of your community where you can have these open conversations.”

Some of the things the group discusses include what happened in early childhood impacts Black men as adults, and Black men’s relationship with commitment.