South Florida Organization Working to Break Stigma of Mental Health Care – NBC 6 South Florida

May marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Month as organizations nationwide continue working to break stigmas surrounding mental health and seeking care.  

Meantime, a new non-profit group in South Florida is making strides towards making mental health care more accessible by offering free therapy to young people in the community.

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

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

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

“With mental health, that program starts off with 12 weeks,” said Brown. “For half of the program, we provide the girls a therapist. After they complete that program, we actually provide them with a therapist for the remainder of their time with us until the age of 21.”

EmpowHer To connects girls with licensed therapists on their dime, meaning it is free to the families of the girls who go through the program. A typically expensive service at no cost for the girls in therapy, Brown said the purpose is to bridge the gap and improve access to mental health care.

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

“What’s important and significant about that is the age group we focus on,” said Thomas. “For the girls, we start from 14 and go to 21, and mental health problems begin by the age of 14, and 75 percent by the mid-20’s.”

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

“Suicide rates are now 29% for girls between the ages of 14-18, which is drastic,” said Brown. “That is way too high right now.”

She said it is not just the rates 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 greater,” said Thomas. “So that’s really the focus of us doing what we are doing, because it’s higher among girls, than boys.”

Even though they have the space for more, each program is limited to 20 to 30 girls.  Brown and Thomas said limiting participation also allows them to keep events small and let the girls they are working with know, they are there for them.

“We believe in looking like them, speaking like them and you know understanding them,” said Brown. “That’s how you get to the kids.”

Brown said her goal in the future 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 on this link.