Slowly but surely, mental health has moved from the sidelines to the center of our national conversation around well-being. But discussing feelings and emotions is still a touchy subject in certain communities.
After realizing that many African Americans weren’t embracing the importance of mental health, Joy Harden Bradford, an Atlanta-based therapist and founder of the mental health platform Therapy for Black Girls, made it her life’s work to encourage more people to get help, talk about it, and simply learn more about mental health.
An innate people person and a problem solver, Bradford said her career as a therapist came naturally. “I was always that person in my friend group that people came to with their problems,” she told HuffPost.
She worked as a college counselor for many years, before breaking out on her own to create Therapy for Black Girls in 2014. The brand now includes a blog, podcast, and vibrant social media communities with over 32,000 members. She also launched a national therapist directory, which lists mental health providers around the country who specialize in working with black women and girls.
HuffPost spoke with Bradford to learn more about how she’s working to combat the stigma around mental health in the black community.
Why did you decide to start Therapy for Black Girls?
I wanted to create a platform that allowed black women to connect to mental health topics in a way that felt relevant and accessible to them ― not using a bunch of jargon or $ 10,000 words. Instead, I wanted to talk about things like how your mental health is impacted by your lack of sleep, or how all the hours you spend on Instagram can actually make you feel bad about yourself.
A lot of times when we talk about mental illness or mental health, I think there’s a lot missing from the conversation. I don’t think we always do a great job focusing on mental wellness, and realizing that we all have mental health we have to take care of. It doesn’t always have to be about mental illness.
How did you come up with the name of your brand?
Therapy for Black Girls started when I watched the BET Awards Show called “Black Girls Rock.” The energy in the room ― even when watching it on TV ― is amazing. After, I thought, “How could I create something that had that sort of energy, but related to mental health?”
The name came to me, and I jumped on GoDaddy and bought the domain, and it’s sort of taken off from there. Therapy for Black Girls has allowed me to connect to the things I love the most: black women, mental health, and pop culture. It’s become a perfect mix of all the things I love.
What are the challenges black women face that might make them feel like mental health care isn’t something that’s meant for them?
A lot of us, culturally, have been taught to keep things in-house. So, the idea of going to a stranger and telling them some very personal things feels foreign.
Also, because of the strong ties around spirituality and religion in this culture, there’s been some pushback. There’s this idea that you can just “pray it away,” or that mental illness means you don’t have a strong enough relationship with God. Of course we know that’s not true, but you have to be sensitive to that fact that people are coming in with these kinds of beliefs. So you can’t just say, “Oh no, that’s stupid.” You have to really work with them and help them understand that both things can be true, and how they can make some changes in their lives.
How has the Therapy for Black Girls community grown over the past few years?
We have an active Facebook group of about 12,000 women, and an audience of 20,000 on Instagram. The ages range from 18 to 55, so older women are sharing words of wisdom with younger women, and they’re also connecting with others about their own struggles and share suggestions. It’s really cool to watch.
You created the Therapy for Black Girls therapist directory on your website. What made you decide to start that?
Because I spend way more time on social media than I need to, I was seeing comments like, “I’d love to work with a black woman therapist.” I knew that we were out there, but it felt like people didn’t know where to start. So, in December 2016, I put out a call on social media asking for black therapist recommendations.
It started off as a simple Google Doc. By the end of that month, I had 90 therapists. It spread from word of mouth from there. In August 2017, I made it a more formal directory on my website, and it’s now grown to 715 therapists across the country.
That’s incredible! You’ve also launched the “Therapy for Black Girls” podcast. What topics do you talk about there?
Sometimes the episodes are just me giving tips, and many topics have a tie-in with pop culture. Recently I did a podcast about the difference of being nice versus kind, based on Drake’s “Nice for What” song.
In other episodes, I talked about other mental health topics, such as what happens after college graduation ― it should be a really happy time, but a lot of people find themselves depressed and confused. I also interview other therapists about their specialties, like emotional eating, or healing after sexual assault. I want people to know that these are the kinds of things you can talk about in therapy, and it’s okay.
Some of the most popular episodes are the “On the Couch” episodes, where a guest therapist and I will do a psychological breakdown of a TV character. For example, if Olivia Pope came to therapy, what would we talk about?
What kind of impact do you see Therapy for Black Girls making?
I always love when people send me an email or tweet me that they found a therapist through the black therapist directory, or that they listened to the podcast and decided to go to therapy. Seeing people able to connect so easily with one another is very encouraging, and I know the work I’m doing is a making an impact.
How do you take care of your own mental health?
I have a group of women that I try to get together with as much as we can. This Sunday, we’re going to get massages together. It’s important that they’re not just therapists; they’re in different professions. It’s where I can just be “Joy the girlfriend” instead of “Joy the therapist.”
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.