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Virginia Doctor's Mental Health Initiative Offers Help for African-American Communities

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African-Americans are disproportionately impacted by the novel coronavirus pandemic, and experts are concerned about the long-term mental health effects the virus will have on communities of color – and one Virginia doctor is trying to do something about it.

Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble, founder of the AAKOMA Project, teamed up with the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation to provide free virtual mental health treatments to help underserved communities in Northern Virginia.

The stigma associated with mental health and the lack of minority health professionals often keep African-Americans from getting help – especially teens and young adults. Suicide rates among black children ages 5 to 12 are two times higher than their white peers.

"You don’t have the primary ways of getting care – going to get mental health care. You also don’t have those secondary culturally based ways that are baked in to get care, so you suffer," Breland-Noble said.

Breland-Noble also plans to take her group sessions online.

"We ourselves can provide the care through our network of people we already know who are culturally competent who are invested in the needs and treatment of kids of color," Breland-Noble said.

Breland-Noble's daughter, Morgann, said she already noticed that some of her friends needed help.

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"I kind of see how they can just shut down a little more than they would on a normal basis," she said.

She said she believes the partnership will encourage people like her friends to reach out.

"Kids need someone where they look up to them, but they also need someone where they know they can go to them if they need help," Morgann said.

Breland-Noble said opportunities like this may be the only opportunity black children and teens have to be in front of a mental health professional – and they’re in dire need of it.

"They will walk away from those events having some tools they can use to care for their mental health and by extension they can take those tools out to other people in their communities," Breland-Noble said.

Registration for the virtual mental health sessions for teens and young adults is open now on the AAKOMA website.

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