Program Aims To Provide Mental Health Services To BIPOC, BLM Supporters

A Black neuroscientist partnered with a Portland activist to create a mental health service for people of color and Black Lives Matter supporters during these tumultuous times.

Willamette Week interviewed Anita Randolph, who explained the the mission, operations and challenges of the Safer Space program. Safer Space is a peer-to-peer mental health support group in the Portland area.

Randolph said her and Teressa Raiford recognized the need for access to mental health, especially with protests against racial injustice continuing nationwide.

"The past 100-plus days of protests have exacted an undeniable mental and emotional toll on BIPOC individuals and the allies who support them. Without an immediate end in sight, the need for mental health maintenance is becoming even more crucial, especially to keep the fight for justice alive," Cervante Pope said, the writer of the article.

Safer Space will be free and doesn't require insurance. The goal is to fill the gap in care and service that often afflicts people of color.

"I see how badly I've been treated at hospitals I've worked at, and I'm like, 'Wow, this is really an issue. I wouldn't want to be your client,'" she said, adding that discrimination in the Pacific Northwest is "bad."

The program is volunteer-run with licensed mental health clinicians offering their services. This will include counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers specializing in mental health and counseling.

"We've got about 100 clinicians who signed up in less than a week, and we're still hoping for more to sign up," Randolph said. "They're getting thoroughly vetted, because it's extremely important for me to not perpetuate a broken system where we have individuals going in for mental health support and coming out more traumatized."

Volunteers will be assessed on their experience working with BIPOC and undergo "anti-racist and trauma-informed training," Randolph said.

One of the challenges of this type of service is the demographics of the Portland area, which lacks BIPOC mental health professionals.

"I don't care how high of a position they have at their hospital or practice. They won't be able to offer support until we can ensure that all of their interactions will be appropriate. People are going to have to be very humble through this process. They're going to have to do a lot of legwork," Randolph said.

She added BIPOC professionals will be given priority, and positions are bestowed on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Even if BLM supporters do not protest, they are still welcome to the service.

"There are many reasons why people don't or can't protest, like health issues or regarding COVID, and there are so many different ways to push the movement other than protesting. That's why we just left it very general, to just be a supporter," Randolph said.

A supporter can be someone who helps create policies, organize events or inform people in meaningful ways.

Pope pointed out that some people who use the BLM movement as a trend might take advantage of this service. Randolph said there will be a vetting process for supporters, too.

"We're going to try our best to come up with some type of system where the clinician can flag someone and then we go and follow up with them... I'm not saying I have all the answers, but I have to try," the neuroscientist said.

Photo: Getty Images

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