Published on January 26, 2021 at 11:26am.
Story by Mary Martin. Photos by Kirsten Chilstrom.
Through her mentoring and career nonprofit, Project 16, Lady Jade has heard first-hand the worries and anxieties that teens are feeling. The past twelve months have brought a global pandemic that effected school routines and social norms, as well as a new awareness of racial inequalities. Teenagers, especially Black teenagers, are finding themselves in the center of every social shift, but often don’t have the tools they need to manage the change in a healthy way.
To meet this need, Project 16 has launched a new initiative called Time to Talk, which is offering teens six free sessions with licensed professional counselors. We asked Lady Jade about the process she took in sharing her own mental health journey, and what it means to cover the cost of mental healthcare for these students.
What was the driving force behind Time to Talk, the new Project 16 campaign to cover the cost of counseling or therapy for the teens you help?
Therapy has been life changing for me and has helped me so much to cope through the last few years of my life, especially during the traumatic year we have all experienced and know as 2020. Life as we once knew it was literally turned upside down, and without therapy I know that my stress and anxiety would have been unbearably through the roof.
Through Project 16, we are normally able to do hands-on activities with students throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area. However, due to COVID-19, we have been unable to meet in-person with any students, which was mentally taxing. To be transparent, I began to get down on myself and feel I wasn’t doing my part in the community, even though their health and safety was the reason we were apart. I work with a youth group weekly and hearing complaints about how stressed they felt with online school, not being able to see their friends like they want to, how sad they were watching social injustices on television and it hit me…
If I am feeling, even as an adult, overly stressed by all of life’s changes, seeing Black men killed and mistreated on television, etc. how are teens coping? The reality is, attending therapy sessions a few times a month has been key to my mental stability and ability to manage my stress, so why not give the same opportunity to our teens? Teens in our black and brown communities need help to heal from trauma they may not even understand, all while continuing to normalize the conversation around therapy and positive mental health in our community. Our teens are in a daily mental battle, so they need these tools just as much as adults.
As you’ve talked with teens across Dallas, what are you hearing? What are some of the biggest anxieties they are facing right now?
Yes, I am blessed to work virtually with group of minority teenagers every week and they always share how tired they are of the pandemic and they hate this new normal due to COVID-19. They feel frustrated and sad that they cannot be with their friends when they want to. Many of them feel lonely and isolated because they are home all day on a computer for school, and many of them say they just feel down right depressed. There are also teens who face the daily pressure of keeping up with the smoke and mirrors of social media and feeling accepted. And all of them are very aware of social injustices that currently exist in our nation and it makes them angry and afraid. They deal with fear daily when a family member leaves the house for a simple trek to work. Sometimes they wonder if they will make it home and that’s taxing their mental health, whether they realize it or not.
What does it mean for you to be working with a team of Black women therapists who are committed to helping teens? How do you see that team expanding?
Therapy is not a normal conversation held at the dinner table in black and brown communities. There is such a negative stigma associated with the subject, and sometimes the inability to cope (and needing outside help) can be viewed as a weakness so we just don’t mention it. I am so very blessed to have three amazing black therapists to be a part of this initiative because I believe it will make a tremendous difference with our students. I think seeing someone qualified to help, that looks like them on the other side of the screen brings forth a level of ease and comfortability. Also, historically many black and brown families have experienced discrimination within the healthcare system which has lead to a lack of trust for health professionals as a whole.
I believe having professionals of color may lessen that tension, put our students at ease, bring forth a sense of relatability which hopefully will help the overall goal of healing. Also, seeing therapists of color may also inspire our kids to want to help heal our community too, and offer another career path.
Time To Talk’s first three mental health professionals. Photos courtesy of Project 16.
As far as team expansion, our goal is to vet many more qualified therapists of color to help with the ever expanding need of therapy across our community. I would love to have hundreds of therapists on board and have enough funding to pay for thousands of teens, young adults, and their families to attend therapy so that the entire unit is working towards positive mental health change, which leads to a much healthier society overall. Unfortunately right now, we have limited funding and a limited number of licensed counselors so we are limited to how many students we can help initially. However, I am excited to see the resources God will bring in and how many people we are eventually going to be able to help.
How has your own journey with mental health and working with a therapist informed how you mentor teens through Project 16?
I think for me it has been helpful to accept the fact that it’s okay not to be okay, it’s okay not to have all the answers, it’s okay to be unsure, and the more I have talked about some of the issues and stresses I deal with, it’s been very relieving to know that I am not alone in this battle. There are so many people just like me that have been trying their best to hold it together on the outside, when the reality is that inside you are falling apart and may be almost at your breaking point. Facing my own struggles has definitely made me more empathetic towards others and has allowed me to recognize some silent cries for help in certain instances.
If someone is passionate about getting mental health care to teens, how can they get involved and support this initiative?
As the old saying goes, it literally takes a village. No matter how many teens or families Project 16 helps, there will ALWAYS be more teens and families with the same need so if anyone would like to support, they can log on to project16dfw.org and tell us how they would like to help. Therapy is a very private process and our therapists are adhering to all HIPAA laws so we don’t necessarily need volunteers, but we definitely need qualified therapists and counselors (that will be pre-screened by our current therapists) and funding.
All of our therapists are paid a standard rate that fairly compensates the therapist but allows us to support as many teens as possible. Fair pay was at the top of our priority list in order to sow seeds into their businesses as they sowed into our community. In order to make this happen we are grateful for every contribution, big or small. Outside of that, your prayers for this vision, our teens and their families, and our country are just as valuable.