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This New App Could Revolutionise Mental Health Care In The Black Community

Recovr promises a new healthcare service that connects users with therapists they can relate to.

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This is 25-year-old Sait Cham, from London. He wants to revolutionise mental health care in the black community.

Sait Cham

Sait has launched Recovr – an app that helps young black adults (ages 18-35) with mental health problems seek professional treatment from black therapists and counsellors. The service also offers subsidised treatment to eligible users, depending upon their income and the severity of their mental health concerns.

Cham decided to set up Recovr after witnessing the experience his close friend Nathan* went through after identifying his own mental health concerns.

Recovr

"[When Nathan] was going through a dark period, and came to the conclusion that he needed to seek help, he had tools that many in the black community don’t have: awareness that mental health is something you should take seriously and finance that allowed him to invest in mental health care," explains Cham.

Also significant, says Cham, was that Nathan knew he wanted to seek treatment with a black woman.

"At the time, I was beginning to learn more about my blackness and was exploring the idea of masculinity and what role it played it in my life," explains Nathan. "A lot of the lessons I’d learned had sprung from conversations with black women so, at the time, I felt more comfortable being vulnerable around black women than black men."

Nathan also wanted to maintain a level of control over his healthcare.

"I didn't feel comfortable going to my GP as I didn't like the idea of having to prove there was something wrong with me … which I found to be the case on most GP visits," he says. "This was going to be a very important and personal step in my life, and I didn't want to be handled as a number that had to be processed and inputed into a spreadsheet."

After researching services that could have helped Nathan, Cham noticed a distinct gap in the market. "I've always wanted to do things for my community," he says, "so I thought, How do I turn the process that he went through into a system that everyone can use?"

Here's how the app works.

Recovr

Recovr users will be asked three questions: ‘How much can you afford?’, ‘Where are you based?’, and ‘Who is it for?’

Based on the answers given, a list of suitable therapists will come up detailing who they are, what they specialise in, where they’re based, and how much they cost.

Other benefits of the service include being an accessible, jargon-free experience. "Generally, therapist directories are very much 'I’m a registered cognitive whatever' and people don’t really give a shit about that, and don’t know what it means anyway," says Cham. "So we’re getting rid of all that and making each therapist’s profile much more personal."

Users can then contact and have a dialogue with therapists before proceeding with any formal treatment. "It’s been quite complicated but we’ve developed the site in such a way that any conversation between users and therapists through the site is completely confidential," says Cham. "It has nothing to do with us and we can’t see it – that [level of privacy] was really important to me."

Healthcare professionals are in favour of the app.

Michael Opoku Forfieh

"This is a very exciting project that totally needs to be done, and I can't believe it hasn’t been thought of before," says Michael Opoku-Forfieh, a forensic mental health practitioner in London.

"What Sait has identified is that if you come from a black perspective or nationality, you don’t always get the support you may be specifically requesting," he says. "With IAPT [an NHS-funded psychological therapies programme] you literally get anyone, and they might not have the experience or knowledge to support you and your identity very well, alongside the mental illness you might be presenting."

But getting men to sign up to the app is still a challenge.

Recovr

People have been able to register their interest with Recovr since December 2015. Since that time, it’s had more than 1,000 subscribers. However, Cham says, "men’s participation is concerningly low".

"I believe a lot of men genuinely think they are fine, so the idea of therapy or counselling doesn’t appear as an option," says Nathan. "The men who do know they need help fear they may be ostracised by friends and family if they were to open up about their issues."

Jacob*, who has undergone counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, and medication courses for his own mental health problems, agrees: "As a man there are things I feel funny letting anyone know about myself – I guess it’s an ego thing. We are meant to be strong homemakers and protectors and I don’t feel comfortable showing my vulnerable side to people."

Recovr wants to help support users who may be reluctant to engage with mental health services through traditional means.

Recovr

While the specific stats vary considerably, research shows black men in Britain are more likely than their white counterparts to be diagnosed with a psychotic illness. These severe mental health issues are often picked up after an arrest, where coercive treatment – medication/sedation – usually follows. Earlier engagement, therefore, is needed.

"If it’s not addressed, there will be many, many people who may go into prison, who may kill themselves, and who may have long-term drug or alcohol-dependency issues," says Opoku-Forfieh. "It’s not a silver bullet-type experience where you can load your gun and with one shot kill the beast, but Sait has certainly hit upon something that is absolutely massive."

"I want young black people who are going through depression or anxiety to recognise Recovr as the place to go, by default, without even thinking about it," says Cham.

And while the service is currently London-focused, the intention is to spread nationwide. Birmingham and Nottingham have strong networks of black mental health care professionals, says Cham, so both cities are forerunners for the next Recovr locations.

The long-term aim, however, is not to exist at all. "I want the problem to be solved. The NHS and government has to recognise that people want full flexibility when it comes to who they see [for help]," says Cham. "And schools, and other systems you'd expect to have the responsibility to highlight issues, family included, aren't picking up on it."

Nathan agrees that earlier education is crucial.

"I just didn't have the opportunities to talk about mental health with my parents or siblings, it wasn't in our day-to-day language," he says. "I think the earlier you expose children to the concept of exploring their feelings and getting them to into the habit, the better results we'll see later on in life."

To find out more, head to recovr.co.uk

*Some names have been changed.

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