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It’s mental health equity for us: 5 innovators of color setting a new standard

Drawing ever closer to the two-year mark of COVID-19, and with the month of September – National Suicide Prevention Awareness month – coming to a close, the spotlight is back on mental health equity in communities of color.

From xenophobic rhetoric to longstanding racial violence and police brutality that claimed the lives of George Floyd and many others within communities of color, the pandemic has been a reckoning for mental health.

The disparity in access to healthcare has also seen people of color disproportionately affected by COVID-19. That same disparity carries over to a mental wellness sector that has historically fallen short in representing people of color.

Here are 5 mental health app innovators on the come up that are looking to change that.

Shine puts a light on mental health equity

mental health equity podcast
Naomi Hirabayashi (left) and Marah Lidey (right).

Former coworkers Marah and Naomi met at social change platform before teaming up to spark their own change. 

Spotting a gap in mental wellness for working millennials of color, the two co-founders drew from their own experiences to launch their personal self-care app Shine in 2016. 

We started Shine because we didn’t see ourselves—a Black woman and a half-Japanese woman—and our experiences represented in mainstream “wellness.” Our bodies, our skin color, our financial access, our past traumas—it all often felt otherized.

Marah Lidey and Naomi Hirabayashi

Encouraging its users to create daily self-care rituals, Shine offers daily listenable meditations as one of three cornerstones that also include reflection and connection with a representative and inclusive community.

With a timely line-up of focused meditation topics including AAPI mental health, black mental health, and navigating COVID-19 anxiety, Marah and Naomi’s Shine took home an App Store Best of 2020 award back in December.

Download the mental health app (here).

Elevate App raises the standard

Lincoln University graduates and friends Aaron, Greg, and Dante sought to bring their sense of brotherhood into a mental health space where black minds were being underrepresented, forgotten in the equity discussion, and cultural stigmatization and systemic barriers to resources held African-Americans back from getting the help they needed.

In 2020, the trio launched Elevate App, a platform focusing on self-motivation and community engagement.

elevate app
mental health app
mental health app

The app features daily inspirational messages, motivational videos and podcasts, safe spaces for community discussion, and self-improvement challenges.

There was a lot of stresses and traumas and obstacles that stood in our way that impacted our mental capabilities and our mental health. And during that time we would talk and vent to one another and provide each other inspiration, and that helped us…  We thought if this brotherhood worked for us — being a service and a resource for each other — then let’s build a platform where we can make it work for other people too.

Aaron Warrick

Download the mental health app (here)

Exhale reminds us to take a deep breath

mental health app founder
Katara McCarty

In the wake of a string of racial violence that claimed the lives of George Floyd, Breonnna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others, entrepreneur and coach Katara McCarty was galvanized to find an outlet for the pain reverberating throughout her community.

“That’s been my community’s outcry for over 400 years, systems of oppression, that knee has been on our neck… I thought, what if we could access resources to help us get back to our breath, to exhale, to really breathe?”

Katara McCarty

A nod back to the motif of suffocation, Exhale is the first of its kind to specifically address the needs of BIWOC — black, indigenous, women of color —  with founder Katara herself overcoming her own adversities as a single mother and a black woman of color. 

Launched on August 25, 2020, the mental health app offers coaching, breath work, guided imaginings, meditations, and affirmations for women of color.

Since then, the app has garnered plaudits as a 2021 finalist in MIT’s Solve initiative for anti-racist technology and a 2021 Webby Award winner in the Health and Fitness Apps category off the back of a nomination in April.

Download the mental health app (here)

Liberate pushes for mental health equity

mental health app founder
Julio Rivera

Although he discovered meditation through Headspace, Julio Rivera found that it, and many predominantly white-focused apps, could not address his experiences as a biracial black and Latinx man.

A software engineer and entrepreneur,  Rivera decided to take matters into his own hands by founding Liberate, a meditation app built for the black community.

Launching in May of 2019, the Liberate app hosts a library of meditation content curated with teachers and speakers of color. 

liberate app functionality
The Liberate App

Following a successful launch, the app has already featured as part of the Apple Store’s Stand Up to Racism collection exploring black-owned apps and services for communities of color.

Julio has already stated what he wants to see next in the development of Liberate, seeking to better staff the project and inject funds through a combination of venture capital money and, more meaningfully, community-based equity crowdfunding.

“Not a lot of startups can really show our revenue numbers with no marketing spend. All of it has happened through the community, sharing it with others, and that’s just so touching for me. And I want the community to benefit from that not only through this transformation of their mental health, but also financially.”

Julio Rivera

Download the mental health app (here)

Find SOMEHWERE GOOD with Ethel’s Club

ethels club founder
Naj Austin is the founder of Ethel’s Club and Somewhere Good

Naj Austin’s first project was an exercise of adaptation that coincided with the emergence of the pandemic when it shuttered businesses. 

Ethel’s Club was originally a brick-and-mortar social club opened in Brooklyn that provided walk-in therapy, personal finance workshops, and meditation to people of color until the pandemic shut its doors just months after.

The community has since moved online, offering virtual services of the same variety as an online platform.

communities of color
directly from ethel site

Seeking to broaden the scope of her ambitions, Naj’s next venture-in-progress is SOMEWHERE GOOD, a platform centering on making a one-stop experience for people of color by bringing together a diversity of communities, including her own in Ethel’s Club, to interact with and fulfill their needs in a safe space filled with mental health equity.

In May of 2021, the platform secured a boost of $3.75 million dollars from investors.

Since then, early access to the platform has been made available ahead of its pending launch.

Join the waitlist (here).