South Florida organization working to break mental health care stigma – NBC 6 South Florida

May marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Month as organizations nationwide continue to work to break the stigma around mental health and seeking care.

Meanwhile, a new South Florida nonprofit group is making strides to make mental health care more accessible by offering free therapy to youth in the community.

The group is called “EmpowHer To” and is located in a building on Brickell Avenue in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The group’s founder, Janeen Brown, told NBC 6 that her organization strives to transform lives and give young women the tools they need early in life.

“We really want the girls to be confident,” Brown said. “That is, I think the most important thing to do is just be able to walk into a room and say, ‘I am who I am.'”

Brown said EmpowHer To is focused on helping young South Florida girls through programs that affect them socially, financially and mentally.

“With mental health, this program starts with 12 weeks,” Brown said. “For half of the program, we provide the girls with a therapist. Once they complete this program, we actually provide them with a therapist for the rest of their time with us until they turn 21.

EmpowHer To connects girls with licensed therapists at their convenience, which means it’s free to the families of girls who take the program. A typically expensive and free service for girls in therapy, Brown said, the goal is to close the gap and improve access to mental health care.

Manuela Thomas, a Broward County public health practitioner who works with the program, says it’s vital.

“What’s important and significant about this is the age group we’re focusing on,” Thomas said. “For girls, it starts at 14 and goes up to 21, and mental health issues start at 14 and 75% in their mid-twenties.

Thomas said the program was created after seeing changes and challenges during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The suicide rate is now 29% among girls ages 14 to 18, which is drastic,” Brown said. “It’s way too high right now.”

She said it’s not just the tariffs that concern her. She is also concerned about disparities in mental health care.

“Particularly when we look at the disparities, you look at Hispanic and African American girls, that statistic is even bigger,” Thomas said. “So it’s really our goal to do what we do, because it’s higher in girls than in boys.”

Although they have room for more, each program is limited to 20-30 girls. Brown and Thomas said limiting attendance also allows them to limit events and let the girls they work with know they are there for them.

“We believe in looking like them, talking like them, and knowing how to understand them,” Brown said. “That’s how you get to kids.”

Brown said her goal going forward is to build a resource center to help even more girls in the area. To learn more about ‘EmpowHer To’ or to donate to their mission, click this link.

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