Free mental health care facility in King County shakes system – KIRO 7 News Seattle

Demand for mental health care is rising, but colored communities are less likely to have access.

A new program is working to change all that with access to completely free mental health care in South King County – no insurance needed.

The program is called “SKEWL” and stands for South King Emotional Wellness League.

“I got my master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling,” said Mike Swann, a licensed counselor and volunteer general practitioner for SKEWL. He is with all specialists in mental health in high course.

“It’s been pretty exponential,” Swann said. “It can take up to three months to find a therapist.”

Swan said ever since January that his caseload has risen 25 to 35 percent.

He works as a Certified Advisor at Talkspace, an online therapy company; works at Kitsap Mental Health Services this weekend; and volunteers as a mental health provider for SKEWL.

“I’ve been working seven days a week except for the PTO since March, but I love what I do. There is such a need. There is such a desire to help people out there. I honestly feel privileged, ”Swann said.

SKEWL is a new program created in 2020 specifically for South King County residents, though it is open to everyone.

Swann said that when various community groups, including the Seattle King County NAACP and Public Health — Seattle & King County, met last year and asked for his help to SKEWL, he was immediately.

“It has been the whole goal of SKEWL, just to support the community as best we can,” Swann said.

The program was started to address the severe mental health of a social uprising and a pandemic, both of which have a disproportionate impact on colored communities.

“These people are often not well served by traditional behavioral health services,” said Sarah Whilhelm, who is also part of SKEWL through Public Health.

“I just found it both, very personally and professionally, very, very inspiring, and I think it gives me hope. It is clear that the pandemic was so severe for our communities in so many different ways, but some of these little silver lining may be that we are able to reduce some of that stigma, ”Wilhelm said.

There are major obstacles.

Not only are minorities less likely to access – for example, jobs that offer mental health benefits – but cultural differences may mean that some people are colored, less likely to seek out services.

Nori de la Pena, also with SKEWL and Public Health — Seattle & King County, is Filipino-American.

“Born in the United States, and we’ve had a pretty long history of mental challenges in my family. My brother and sister have bipolar,” said de la Pena. “It’s not just something you can say, ask for it and get more “It’s not that easy,” she said.

She said their family received help through the emergency room and facilities like Western State Hospital.

But it took years for her family to fully understand and accept mental health.

“We wanted to keep our family name and we did not want to bring any negative connotations to what we were dealing with,” de la Pena said. “Finally, it got to a point where it was no longer taboo,” she said.

Now she’s part of the SKEWL program by helping connect mental health providers with people looking for help or support.

“So (it) was really a passionate thing for me to do and (I am) really happy to be a part of it,” de la Pena said.

Over the past year and a half, SKEWL has provided counseling at COVID-19 testing and vaccine events and held group therapy sessions on the effects of racism, but the latest offering is free one-on-one sessions with an advisor. No insurance is required and there is no paperwork.

“I love the way we are able to support each other without all the bureaucracy and insurance and billing and all that stuff,” Wilhelm said.

The latest data from the American Psychological Association show last year that about 84% of psychologists are white.

Even when colored people find a therapist, data shows that minorities are more likely to receive poor care and terminate services prematurely, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“I actually came across it with people. ‘I have no therapists here I can relate to.’ They do not share the same background, so it is a real challenge to be able to relate to clients, ”said Swann.

The advisors who volunteer at SKEWL are mostly colored.

“Giving people a chance to talk to a professional is a great thing to do. And the fact that it’s free and all you have to do is sign up for Eventbrite and you’ll see an advisor that day. Said Swann.

He says the people who have signed up to use SKEWL’s services are not necessarily in crisis, but just people who have had trouble finding care or did not know where to start.

“We give people a voice, a place to talk about things with a professional, an uninterested third party, per say. And I think it’s really monumental to people,” Swann said.

You can sign up for individual help through SKEWL’s Facebook page or also find access to participate in group sessions there.

“What I want to do is make sure colored people understand that they have opportunities. They don’t have to go on this alone,” Swann said.

SKEWL led a group talk Thursday called “COVID: A Conversation on Trauma, Stigma, Grief and Growth” and will have its next group discussion in December.

One-on-one session nights are available once a month.

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