There is a problem in mental health care– and I have experienced it firsthand.
I grew up in inner-city Brooklyn with both of my parents, who were immigrants. In my community, there was immense stigma associated with mental health problems, and it was even more prevalent among Black men.
My home was chaotic and conflict-ridden; my father worked long hours in a factory, and my mom worked two full-time jobs to make ends meet. More often than not, I found myself escaping the chaos through my love of basketball.
Unfortunately, the chaos wasn’t just at home; navigating the dangerous inner-city streets was a living nightmare. Crime and gang violence surrounded us. And suddenly– this nightmare infiltrated the classrooms. A few of my middle school classmates even wore bulletproof vests for protection. I was scared to go to school. Would I return home alive?
The first funeral I attended was for my friend and teammate, who was shot and killed on Mother’s Day. Unfortunately, it was not the last funeral I attended due to gun violence.
In ninth grade, I started to have difficulty focusing in class and remembering plays on the basketball court. At the time I didn’t know how to handle my change in focus. I began to feel anxiety and a sense of impending doom, even when there was no real danger. I continued to use basketball as an outlet for my internal strife. A few times, I expressed the mental health concerns I was experiencing to my friends and family. In response, I was told to go to church and “pray” or “to man up– because Black men should be tough.” I felt isolated and invalidated. It made me wonder how many were suffering in silence like me.
In my late 20s, I had a near-death experience after a sudden stroke. I was working in the hospital at the time, and ER doctors and nurses acted swiftly to save my life as I rapidly decompensated. After three long days in the hospital, I learned that my stroke was caused by a heart condition called Patent Foramen Ovale. Before this point, I had no knowledge of this heart condition. It caused a hole in my heart to remain open, allowing a blood clot to move from the right side of my heart to the left side up to my brain. I underwent heart surgery two months later, and although the hole in my heart was repaired, the anxiety regarding my health remained.
The struggles with my mental health led me to a crossroads. I had two options; I could continue to suffer from the stress of childhood traumas and anxiety about my health– or I could seek help to regain control of my life. I decided on the latter option and began seeking mental health treatment in New York City.
This process proved to be difficult. I overcame the invalidation and isolation that I felt, and found the courage to be vulnerable– despite those around me saying, “You need to man up.” I struggled to find an affordable clinician. The average cost of a psychiatrist visit in New York City was $400 per session, with 70% of mental health providers being out of network and unable to accept my insurance. Additionally, it was challenging to find Black mental health providers. Opening up about my mental health was already very difficult, so it was essential to find a provider who I felt safe sharing my experiences with; someone who understood my experience as a Black man.
In 2020, the need for accessibility to mental health care for the BIPOC communities became glaringly apparent. The COVID-19 pandemic, the tragic murder of George Floyd, and continuous discrimination against communities of color exacerbated the need for equity in mental health services.
My experiences navigating the mental health system as a Black man and my work helping thousands of patients as a Board Certified Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner inspired me to launch ReKlame Health in 2020.
Although there is still work to be done in making mental health care equitable for everyone, we are on a mission to be that safe space with diverse practitioners and accessible services that we had once hoped to find. Our vision is to help others who may be suffering from mental health concerns but cannot get the help they need because of cost, stigma, and lack of access to trusted professionals.
ReKlame Health provides affordable, effective mental health care and medication management to support underserved and underrepresented communities. We also strive to serve Millennials and Gen Z struggling to manage the stresses and demands of the modern 21st-century world.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story. Now it’s time to ReKlame your story.