Left to right: Starr Barbour, Founder/Host Amerikan Therapy; Jailen Leavell, Caleb Jarmon, Daryus Drayton, Taylor Owens, Braxton Simpson, Charnequa Austin Kennedy, Director of Counseling Services for TSU; Erica Gilmore, Metro City Council Member and Assistant Dean of Student Conduct; Sasha Nicole, Founder/Host Amerikan Therapy. Photo courtesy of Sasha Nicole

By Ashley Benkarski

NASHVILLE, TN — Podcast hosts and HBCU alums Sasha Nicole and Starr Barbour kicked off their show’s inaugural HBCU tour at Tennessee State University Oct.10 prior to homecoming celebrations.

Their TSU stop featured opening remarks from Dean Frank Stevenson, Associate Vice President and Dean of Students and Metro City Councilmember Erica Gilmore. Dacari Middlebrooks, author of The Depressed Millennial, spoke during the fireside chat.

The show, Amerikan Therapy, focuses on mental health in the African American community and features high-profile guests, “occasional spoken word artists” and licensed mental health professionals on every episode to speak on specific topics that impact a large portion of individuals, the hosts said. The National Alliance on Mental Illness notes that adolescents are often adversely affected, with half of such illnesses appearing by age 14 and three-fourths presenting by age 24.

The hosts said they were impressed by TSU’s student body, citing their transparency and willingness to have conversations about a subject that often carries undue stigma. Expectations of student academic performance are undercut by stress and pressure, making mental challenges harder to overcome.

One in five Americans experiences some form of mental illness and “people languish in emergency rooms and law enforcement officers are responding to avoidable crises because community-based mental health services aren’t there for people who need them,” NAMI states. 

While mental health is an issue that affects people across all demographics, Amerikan Therapy focuses on the struggles within the black community compounded by generational racial trauma “by having rigorous debate with an entertaining approach towards topics that are often deemed ‘unapproachable’ within the black community,” the hosts said. Centuries-old racist stereotypes that assign negative traits to African Americans and deem them less human prevent early intervention, a critical step in recovery, and the lack of African American mental health clinicians contributes to this prevention by causing a disparity in health equity. 

Mental health care is not a “one size fits all” approach— the complexity of mental illness lies in its difference in presentation and severity from one person to another. 

Amerikan Therapy is stepping up to address the need of care and conversation and that’s where the licensed clinician comes in, providing a resource for those suffering. 

Going forward the hosts want to turn the show into something visual to make it relatable for more individuals and they’re also hoping to make progress on legislative initiatives that would provide access to care and destigmatize black mental health.

“We want to provide not only an encouraging ear, but actionable advice,” said the hosts. “The reality is that our black communities are suffering, but it is HBCUs that have had a long-standing history in the community and have given opportunities to millions of black men and women to achieve higher and be prepared for the world.”

Their advice to non-black clinicians is to study the societal racism that so negatively affects black Americans by becoming culturally competent.

For those in the community suffering from mental illness the hosts urge them to find help in the meantime, even if the clinician doesn’t look like them and to keep searching for a doctor who can see their humanity.

Amerikan Therapy can be heard on iHeart Radio, Stitcher, iTunes, Spotify and Google Play. Episodes are released every Tuesday.