St. Louis natives Jesse Alex and Lamar Johnson, Jr. are hoping to create change through a mental health service that provides virtual therapy sessions, connecting Black men to Black therapists. STR8 Mental is something that grew out of their fatherhood initiative, Dear Fathers, during the pandemic.
“What fatherhood means to them, their relationship with their fathers, and not only tell stories, but then to also provide resources for them as well, so that’s kind of what led us to STR8 Mental,” said Alex in an interview with St. Louis’ 5 On Your Side. “The mental health aspect kind of sparked out of the pandemic.”
The need is great and one thing they strive to do with STR8 Mental is remove the stigma of mental health care and therapy for men, particularly Black men.
“We’re taught to as men, especially Black men, to hold things in, to man up, to be tough, don’t cry,” Alex explained. “You’re in a group of other people who look like you, talking to someone who also looks like you, in a safe space.”
Nicholas Hardy is the lead therapist for STR8 Mental. He told 5 On Your Side, “It’s super important in therapy to have people who look like you. People are resistant because they’re fearful of people understanding their unique circumstance.”
The program has 18 therapists from 16 different states. There have been 500 participants since May, 200 from the St. Louis area. The men share their experiences with racism as well as other life challenges and fears.
“There are other people who are in the same situation, who experienced similar challenges, and when you take that first step that’s empowering,” Hardy said.