During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Renell Farley, a Kaiser Permanente member, was facing a lot. Outside of the challenges of being a single parent getting her daughter off to college, she was also reeling from the death of George Floyd. She needed support.
She enrolled in Affirmations for Your Ancestors, a mental health support group for Black Kaiser Permanente members through the Richmond Medical Center.
“Race affects every aspect of our lives, so to be in a room with people who have had similar experiences and to share that connection is so important,” said Farley, an IT operations manager in Care Delivery Technology for Kaiser Permanente. “There is so much to be said for having a medical provider who knows who you are and understands and respects the unique differences of your culture.”
“This class connected the dots of race and healing for me as I was able to have a discussion about race and be seen as human.” – Renell Farley
This was the purpose of Affirmations for Your Ancestors when Danielle Simien, a licensed clinical social worker formerly at Kaiser Permanente Richmond, created it in 2019. Understanding the significant need for culturally responsive mental health care for Black members and hearing from many of her patients that they were suffering from the impacts of racism, she set out to create groups where people could share experiences and learn skills to overcome trauma.
“There are not a lot of spaces where people feel safe to be themselves and talk about racism and its trauma and other concerns specific to the Black community,” Simien said.
Holistically healing racial trauma
The program today is led by Damian Cassells-Jones, PsyD, and Aviance A. Rhome-Boroff, PsyD, both clinical psychologists at the Kaiser Permanente Richmond Medical Center. With the support of 12 mental health providers, the program offers 4 groups — African American Wellness, Healing Racial Trauma and Social Injustice, Redefining Our Strength (a women’s support group), and Movement for Mental Health — together now serving about 65 patients. Each group meets virtually for about 2 hours weekly for 8 weeks, with some that are ongoing, and is open to all Kaiser Permanente members who identify as being within the African Diaspora, upon referral from the psychiatry triage team or a mental health provider within the Department of Psychiatry.
Each group is centered on a holistic approach from teaching coping, medication, and self-care skills, to understanding the history of racism and its impact on today’s society and its systems. Open discussions about the participants’ everyday experiences coping with racism and building resiliency play a large part in the approach.
“Historically, Black individuals have been underserved in health care,” Cassells-Jones said. “Many people who identify with the African Diaspora don’t feel seen or heard. These mental health groups are trying to fill that gap.”
Rhome-Boroff explained that representation among health care providers is very important to the Black community and allows their everyday experiences and trauma to be more deeply understood and their healing to be recognized and affirmed.
“In these groups, systemic racism and the impacts of the daily challenges that Black individuals face are acknowledged and validated by a mental health provider who can understand their experiences,” she said.
Expanding health equity
The groups are part of Kaiser Permanente’s larger mission of health equity. They are already being replicated in the organization’s Mid-Atlantic service area, with plans to expand even further.
“The need for culturally responsive mental health care is more apparent than ever before,” said Don Mordecai, MD, national leader for Kaiser Permanente Mental Health and Wellness. “By creating a safe and supportive place where people can share their unique perspectives and their experiences with racial trauma, Affirmations for Your Ancestors reaffirms Kaiser Permanente’s commitment and increasing focus on addressing health inequities among our underserved communities.”
Farley said the women’s group, which discusses topics such as intimate partner violence, parent child relationships, and the angry Black woman stereotype, allowed her to more deeply understand the biases she faces. “In society, Black women are labeled as being strong and therefore we don’t have as much support because people don’t think we need help,” she said.
Affirmations for Your Ancestors allowed Farley to feel seen, she said.
“This class connected the dots of race and healing for me as I was able to have a discussion about race and be seen as human.”
Learn more about mental heath at Kaiser Permanente.