Seattle-area youth created this guide to connect teens to multicultural mental health care

There are a lot of things you can’t do when you’re 13: vote, drive a car, legally watch an R-rated movie in a theater. But in Washington, a 13-year-old can seek an appointment and receive mental health services, treatment for a substance use disorder or withdrawal management support without the consent of a parent or guardian

The Seattle Times Education Lab partnered with members of King County Public Health’s Social Media Ambassadors and Soar youth programs to create a resource for young people seeking mental health support services. 

As the pandemic storms on, researchers are finding more evidence that stress, anxiety and depression are having significant effects on the brains, mental health and behaviors of kids and teens. For youth who identify as people of color, there can be added layers of challenge, from cultural taboos around discussing mental health to a lack of therapists and physicians of color who specialize in treating young people. 

South King County students Samira Farah, Cherlyn Ferguson, Juli Malit and Yasmin Mustefa teamed up to interview professionals from five organizations that focus on serving communities of color. King County-area youth workers Emma McVeigh and Devan Rogers helped make this collaboration possible.

This guide is designed to outline the steps teens and young adults can take to find a provider that suits their needs.

The struggle is real enough. Finding help shouldn’t have to be a hassle. 

Know before you go

  • The organizations interviewed offer general mental health counseling and support services.
  • For immediate help during a crisis, call 911 or visit a local emergency center. You can also contact the King County Children’s Crisis Outreach Response System at 206-461-3222 and the 24/7 Crisis Connections line at 866-427-4747. Teens can also call the confidential Teen Link help line at 866-833-6546 between 6 and 10 p.m., or text the same number until 9:30 p.m. 
  • All counseling service providers and referral organizations will collect contact information, ask you if you need language assistance, ask you if you want to involve your family and ask you if you have health insurance. Health insurance is not always necessary to receive services. 
  • Help can be free or low-cost. Be sure to ask about this during your intake process. 
  • If you are feeling nervous, most providers say it’s fine to bring a sibling or a friend to your first appointment for support. But the appointment and treatment is for and about you. 
  • You can ask for either a one-on-one session or a group session. 
  • If you don’t feel comfortable with the therapist assigned to you or the agency you’re working with, you can always switch providers or leave at any time. No feelings hurt! 
Courtesy of Juli Malit


Meet the students and the mental health services providers they profiled

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Asian Counseling and Referral Service

 

Student: Juli Malit, 17, Renton

Why youth mental health matters to you: I’ve struggled with my own mental health over the last few years, and, worse, I’ve seen the effects of mental illnesses in some of my best friends. I’ve since learned the importance of good support systems and accessible mental health care — things that many take for granted, and many youth are at a loss for.

Why you chose to profile this organization: As an Asian American immigrant, I know of and am affected by stigma around mental health in our community. For many AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) youth, mental health care is not only logistically difficult to come by, but it also comes with cultural barriers that make such treatments highly inaccessible.

About the organization: Asian Counseling and Referral Service is a nonprofit that provides behavioral health programs, human services and civic engagement activities for members of the AAPI community in King County and surrounding areas. Among its many services for disabled, immigrant, refugee and other community members, one standout service is its Youth Mental Health Counseling program, through which youth can find a match that works for them and their relationship to their culture. 

Who you interviewed: Dillon Nishimoto, clinical manager, master of social work and licensed independent clinical social worker for Asian Counseling and Referral Service in Seattle

If a youth reaches out to this organization, what will the first interaction be like? 

For children and youth services, reach out via [email protected] ACRS will confirm the youth’s contact information and schedule a call to discuss their needs and how to best match them with a service. This conversation may include asking whether or not to involve parents, or talking about ways to fund the counseling process without parental support. The main point of this first call would be to discuss what the youth is looking for, such as which identities they would like to be matched with, or which areas in life they would need help in.

Who will the youth be talking with? 

The intake email will land in the inboxes of multiple ACRS staff members before one person will reply and make the first contact call. After discussing eligibility and needs, the organization will match the youth with someone. In some cases, this may be the very person who made that first call. 

What is the organization doing to educate youth in the community about the mental health resources that are available?

“Often, there are reasons that youth are not ready or not comfortable involving family members in their mental health care, so the resources we talk about are their rights and age of consent when it comes to mental health,” Nishimoto said. ACRS works with youth to get them to exercise these rights and find a plan of action for mental health care that works for them.

How does the organization meet community mental health needs with intersectionality in mind — the overlaps of culture, class, age, gender, etc.? How does it approach people with cultural competency to make sure they are understood and their needs are met?

Understanding how therapist and client identities intersect or interact is an ongoing dialogue within ACRS. Walking us through a first call with Asian Counseling and Referral Service, Nishimoto describes a question all employees picking up that phone would ask themselves about how they can best support a client: “Is there a cultural, language or other identity need? Maybe you’re looking for someone who is LGBTQ, or specializes in LGBTQ [issues] and is familiar with the culture and linguist needs from the Philippines?” This all happens verbally for privacy reasons, but it should not be an intimidating process. They ask these questions to better support you. Beyond this first conversation, if a match is not working out because of clashing identities, ACRS will work with the client to find a better match with a provider.

Connect: To request an intake form, send an email of interest to [email protected] Visit acrs.org, @acrsnews on Instagram and Twitter, @ACRSonline on Facebook for more info.

Languages spoken: ACRS offers services in more than 40 languages and dialects. Language assistance services are offered free of charge.  

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Black Girls Smile

 

Student: Yasmin Mustefa, 17, Federal Way 

Why youth mental health matters to you: With the ongoing pandemic and schools being closed for more than a year, anxiety and depression are still prevalent in youth and more important than ever to address. I believe it is crucial for teens to find tools to help them cope with these feelings while simultaneously connecting with other youth to help them realize that many other young people are going through the same things as well. 

Why you chose to profile this organization: As a Black woman, I’ve found it hard to find support for people who look like me. For many young Black women, it is difficult to find resources they are comfortable using due to the lack of Black mental health professionals. Just as its name suggests, Black Girls Smile specifically focuses on providing resources such as therapy and mental health education for young Black girls to encourage young Black women to reach for help. 

About the organization: Black Girls Smile is a nonprofit organization that focuses on the mental health of young Black women and girls. Through mental health literacy workshops and therapy scholarships, the organization aims to empower the mental well-being of Black women.

Who you interviewed: Lauren Carson, founder of Black Girls Smile

If a youth reaches out to this organization, what will the first interaction be like? 

Intersectionality workshops and therapy scholarships are two ways youth can reach out for help. The workshops focus on where mental wellness and issues for Black women intersect, like sexual health or college preparation. The workshops are free because Carson says she doesn’t want young women to face a financial burden in accessing a range of support. 

Therapy scholarships provide the financial opportunity for youth to work with a mental health professional. To obtain this service, the first step is to fill out an interest form with your email address and contact information for the provider. Carson said applicants under age 23 are prioritized. “From there, we try to make it really easy when we reach out to the provider. We don’t want there to be any financial burden and want to increase the access as much as possible for the young women [who want to be] a part of our programs,” she said.

When a youth reaches out to this organization, who will they be talking with? 

Black Girls Smile has a small team, so Carson says “a lot of the engagement and communication is still coming from me.” She says she tries to be as agile and responsive as possible in assisting those who reach out. If Black Girls Smile is unable to meet the needs of a young woman or girl who reaches out, Carson directs them to BSG partner organizations, such as Pretty Brown Girl, a national organization which supports the social-emotional learning and self-esteem of girls and young women who identify as Black or brown. 

What is the organization doing to educate youth in the community about the mental health resources that are available?

Facebook and Instagram are the biggest platforms used to engage with youth. The BGS workshops are offered for free and listed on social media or on their website. “We try to make it as easy as possible to sign up for workshops, to participate in workshops and programs,” Carson said.

If a youth member in your community came to this organization during a mental health crisis, what steps would be taken to ensure they received the treatment they needed? 

Black girls and young women facing an immediate crisis can text the word “SMILE” to the national crisis text line, 741741. That code helps identify that a Black girl is in crisis and needs culturally responsive support. 

How does the organization meet community mental health needs with intersectionality in mind — the overlaps of culture, class, age, gender, etc.? How does it approach people with cultural competency to make sure they are understood and their needs are met?

“We are taking into account the experiences, the voices, the cultural considerations, gender responsiveness of women and girls of color,” says Carson. Carson points out that the Black Girls Smile board and its network of advisers, partners and contractors are made up of women of color. “We try to really espouse working to uplift and empower young Black women in all capacities. I think when you bring that intentionality to the table, hopefully [that’s] really felt by our participants within our programs and initiatives,” she said. 

Connect: blackgirlssmile.org, [email protected], 347-669-4229, @blackgirlssmile on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook

Location: Remote services are available nationally.

Language spoken: English

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Consejo Counseling and Referral Service 

 

Student: Cherlyn Ferguson, 16, Seattle

Why youth mental health matters to you: Having my own struggles with mental health and friends who share similar issues, I hear a recurring sentiment of wanting help but not knowing where to find it. In these same conversations, we share concerns of familial understanding and approval of said mental health resources. Finding organizations that work with these barriers is essential to strengthening my relationship with myself and with others. 

Why you chose to profile this organization: Consejo’s ability to tackle a variety of services/treatments for Washington-based Latino communities is admirable. With 40 years of experience and growth, Consejo has developed many successful locations and electronic services, making it easily accessible both physically and digitally.

About the organization: Consejo has been providing the Latino communities in Washington State with behavioral health-based counseling and referral services for the past 4 decades. Consejo aims to aid their clients through “culturally competent services designed to address the diverse needs of adults, children, adolescents and families in the Latino community.”

Who you interviewed: Consejo staff

If a youth reaches out to this organization, what will the first interaction be like? 

When a youth reaches out to Consejo to request services, a staff member fluent in both English and Spanish will help the individual determine how Consejo can assist them with mental health or substance use counseling. 

The organization will offer the youth an initial assessment appointment at an agreed-upon location including the youth’s school, community or at one of Consejo’s offices. The interaction will be confidential and in a private setting. The youth will let a staff member know what is happening in their lives including school, family and social situations. The youth can expect to be asked for his or her insurance card, and additional questions such as contact information. It is important for the youth to know that if they do not have health insurance, Consejo can still provide services free of cost. 

When a youth reaches out to this organization, who will they be talking with? 

When a youth calls the main number, 206-461-4880, they will speak with a front desk staff member. These individuals speak fluent Spanish and English, and can help direct the youth to the service they are seeking. If the youth wants to start therapy or substance abuse counseling, they can simply tell the front desk staff, and they will be transferred to someone who can schedule them right away.

What is the organization doing to educate youth in the community about the mental health resources that are available?

Consejo works closely with youth and their families to provide a variety of programs specializing in outpatient behavioral health services and school-based mental health therapy, individual therapy, group therapy, case management, psychiatric care, substance abuse outpatient recovery services, sexual assault counseling, domestic violence advocacy, peer mentorships, support groups, and youth violence prevention. Consejo also focuses on outreach in our communities to educate youth and their families about mental health and substance abuse challenges and the significance of a safe and culturally responsive environment. 

In addition, Consejo’s APOYO program focuses on high-risk youth who may have been negatively impacted by the criminal justice system. Consejo’s goal is to target system navigation and trauma-informed care so youth can feel empowered and supported to reach their full potential.

If a youth member in your community came to this organization during a mental health crisis, what steps would be taken to ensure they received the treatment they needed?

A youth would be evaluated to see the need and severity of the crisis. For example, it would make a difference to find out whether they are experiencing suicidality, substance withdrawal or abuse. “We will take the proper steps to ensure that the youth is connected with the proper treatment — this in itself can mean that they work with a mental health or substance use counselor to de-escalate the crisis; or we may need to contact 911 so that the youth can be taken to the hospital/care facility that is most appropriate if more intense care is necessary — the parent or guardian would be notified as confidentiality applies,” Consejo staff say. “As mandated reporters, we also take the proper steps in reporting abuse and specific safety concerns. In addition, it is part of our care protocol to collaborate with other providers in order to provide the best care to our clients. Our priority is always safety first.”

How does the organization meet community mental health needs with intersectionality in mind — the overlaps of culture, class, age, gender, etc.? How does it approach people with cultural competency to make sure they are understood and their needs are met?

“The demographic we serve are primarily individuals and families ranging from children, adolescents, to adults of the Latino/Hispanic and Spanish-speaking communities. In some locations, there are staff that provide services in other languages such as Portuguese,” according to staff. Consejo works with internal and external providers to address social determinants of health. Consejo works with Bastyr University and Swedish Family Medicine to provide naturopathic services and primary care services to Consejo’s clients. “Our approach to cultural competency is to ensure Consejo staff promotes acceptance, security, growth and empowerment to all for clients to participate in their communities at the highest level of functioning.”

Connect: consejocounseling.org, @consejocounseling on Instagram, 206-461-4880.

Location of services: Remote and in-person services available. 

Languages spoken: Spanish, English

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Muslim Behavioral Health Network

 

Student: Samira Farah, 23, Renton

Why youth mental health matters to you: Witnessing the youth in my community struggle to find healthy outlets or resources has ignited my passion for mental health work. 

Why you chose to profile this organization: As a young Somali-Muslim woman, I find that my community lacks in youth mental health resources due to cultural barriers and limited knowledge. The Muslim Behavioral Health Network (MBHN) is breaking through these barriers by uniquely combining networking and culturally aware community-based psychoeducation to ensure mental health needs are met. 

About the organization: Muslim Behavioral Health Network is a fairly new organization made up of distinguished professionals whose goal is to educate and provide resources to the Muslim community about mental health and substance use disorder issues. Muslim behavioral health providers noticed the dire need of Muslim providers to connect with one another as well as with members of their respective communities. The ongoing stigma and lack of understanding of mental health within these communities compelled this organization to become a pillar of support for Muslims in Washington. 

Who you interviewed: Jamila Farole, founder of Muslim Behavioral Health Network and social worker; Dr. Zahra Shirazy, psychiatrist 

If a youth reaches out to this organization, what will the first interaction be like? 

This network is accessible via Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and email. “The first thing that the community members need to know is that we do not offer clinical services,” Farole said. “We try to facilitate the connection between Muslim behavioral health providers and the community by providing the community with a list of the behavioral health providers in the State of Washington, as well as other resources — both Muslim-centric and not.” 

What is the organization doing to educate youth in the community about the mental health resources that are available?

Farole said youth who reach out would be notified of community education events that MBHN produces which may be relevant to them. These links can be found on the organization’s social media pages. The group holds monthly trainings regarding different behavioral health topics for the Muslim community to discuss mental resources for youth and adults. MBHN is building a youth network to help young people connect with each other and be mentored by Muslim behavioral health professionals. Dr. Shirazy also makes an effort to connect with youth during mental health events.

How does the organization meet community mental health needs with intersectionality in mind — the overlaps of culture, class, age, gender, etc.? How does it approach people with cultural competency to make sure they are understood and their needs are met?

Muslim Behavioral Health Network and its affiliates address behavioral health needs from a faith- and culturally based perspective as much as they can; it all depends on who they are serving at the time. The network offers a platform for Muslim behavioral health specialists and college students to network, share resources and educate the Muslim community in the Northwest about the behavioral health and substance use disorders afflicting the Muslim community. 

Connect: Facebook, Instagram or [email protected] 

Location of services: Remote referral services, virtual and in-person workshops available. 

Languages spoken: Some providers speak multiple languages and dialects.

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WA Therapy Fund

 

Student: Yasmin Mustefa, 17, Federal Way

Why you chose to profile this organization: In society, men — specifically men of color — are often critically judged when reaching out for help, making them afraid to seek support. It’s important to combat this stigma by providing resources and encouraging men to reach out when needed. WA Therapy Fund is an organization that works to encourage all members of the Black community to look after their mental well-being by providing the funds to do so. Vice President Deaunte Damper runs a support group for young men, B.R.O.T.H.A. (Blacks Recovering Overcoming Trauma Health and Awareness).

About the organization: WA Therapy Fund is a nonprofit organization based in Washington that helps fund free therapy to members of the Black community. The organization was founded in 2020 in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustice protests. During this time, a large number of Black people reached out for support during the stresses of the year but many were unable to afford services. As a therapist, Ashley McGirt believed in the importance of providing resources and founded the organization as a way for the Black community to receive help from a safe place. As founder, executive director, and president of therapy, McGirt advocates for mental health education and to destigmatize getting mental health help throughout communities of color. 

Who you interviewed: WA Therapy Fund President Ashley McGirt and Vice President Deaunte Damper

If a youth reaches out to this organization, what will the first interaction be like?

To apply for funding, you have to identify as Black and be a Washington resident. Seattle residents are prioritized due to a grant from the city. Youth can connect with the WA Therapy Fund through events or social media. 

“Even prior to filling out an application we’re willing and able to speak with the youth to answer any questions that they may have,” McGirt said.

The first interaction requires an application which includes your current provider and personal information. After reviewing your application, you will either be accepted or denied for funding. The next step is making sure you have a therapist. If you do not already have a therapist you are working with, WA Therapy Fund lists contracted providers on their website. If your therapist is not on the list of providers, they would need to partner with the WA Therapy Fund in order to be paid directly. 

“After that, there’s pretty limited interaction in terms of the funding aspect when you’re reaching out to us, because we want to give you that privacy. The support that you’re going to be building is going to be with your individual therapist who you’re choosing to work with.” McGirt said.

When a youth reaches out to this organization, who will they be talking with? 

When youth reach out, they will be interacting with the board of directors, including McGirt and Damper.  

What is the organization doing to educate youth in the community about the mental health resources that are available?

“I feel like social media is one of the safest, easiest ways to really target the youth. Making posts that are accessible to them, using hashtags that the youth tend to be drawn towards. Also incorporating other youth, whether it be speaking up about our organization and mental health advocacy with youth,” McGirt says. 

Damper recalled an event held earlier this year which focused on Black youth and mental wellness. 

“I think that we’re all, even the older adults, just getting into the realms of understanding that therapy is healing,” he said. “It’s about wellness and it’s about the healing coming out of this pandemic and dealing with the racial injustice, so we don’t have to be so isolated.”

The event, which was a part of the Well Beings campaign hosted by media platforms like PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs, centered Black mental health and allowed youth to lead in talking about their wellness. Damper added, “Sometimes, even as young youth, we deal with things.”

If a youth member in your community came to this organization during a mental health crisis, what steps would be taken to ensure they received the treatment they needed?

McGirt says depending on the crisis, WA Therapy Fund staff may direct youth to call 911, a 211 crisis clinic or a counselor who may offer private practice crisis services. 

“We do have a number of different counselors who offer those services,” she said, “So it really just depends on the crisis. Is it suicidal ideation? Things like that, are they thinking about self-harming? Are they having a panic attack and anxiety? Is it depression? We’ll want to get them paired up with some support ASAP.”

Damper points out that sometimes the processes take too long when in a crisis: “So we would refer you to the crisis clinic that’s actually trained and they don’t have to do the whole [traditional] intake process with you. Working in the nonprofit sector, I have dealt with some youth in crisis and one of the things about it is just allowing them to speak.”

How does the organization meet community mental health needs with intersectionality in mind — the overlaps of culture, class, age, gender, etc.? How does it approach people with cultural competency to make sure they are understood and their needs are met?

WA Therapy Fund holds trainings to ensure clinicians are practicing from an anti-oppressive psychotherapeutic lens, understand racial trauma and understand the current climate of the world. McGirt highlights the importance of clinicians having the skills and the training to meet those basic needs. McGirt said that though the organization is 99% people of color, she recognizes white supremacy may still be upheld through decolonizing the field of mental health and the importance of ensuring everyone is receiving training. 

Damper said that in addition to cultural competency, cultural humility is also an important factor. “I’m opening up the conversation for cultural humility and acknowledging it. When you come with cultural humility, you actually come with acknowledging and understanding that us as people, we all deal with different things, but [are] humbling yourself and understanding that we have to be more inclusive if we want a better unity and community.”

Connect: @watherapyfund on Instagram and Facebook; therapyfundfoundation.org 

Location of services: Remote referral services, training and social media events available. 

Languages spoken: English

Special thanks: This project was produced in partnership with the Social Media Ambassadors youth program of Soar King County and King County Public Health.

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Mental health resources from The Seattle Times