Charlamagne tha God
The Equity Issue

Inside Charlamagne tha God's Mental Wealth Alliance

At a personal level, improving your mental health does not happen overnight, no matter who you are. It takes work, preparation, persistence and often requires external support—whether that comes from a therapist, a friend or loved one, or a larger community. As with our physical health, maintaining mental self-care is not easy.

So when it comes to breaking through systemic disparities in mental health that can affect entire populations of individuals, it's not hard to see how much work, preparation, persistence, and support may be necessary. With the Mental Wealth Alliance launched a year ago, Charlamagne tha God is doing everything he can to provide that support for members of Black communities who—like him—are seeking help for their mental health.

The Mental Wealth Alliance

The organization seeks to help destigmatize mental health in Black communities and help make treatment more accessible and effective for people in those communities. Additionally, the MWA launched the Collaborative for Black Mental Wealth to pull together a number of other organizations with the shared goal of raising awareness for BIPOC mental health issues.

Charlamagne has been outspoken about his personal mental health journey, which you can read more about in our Equity Issue cover story. To learn more about the MWA and everything it is doing to help close some of the gaps in mental healthcare in Black communities, however, we turned to the organization's chief mental wellness officer, Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble, to discuss its three pillars: Teach, Train, and Treat.

Dr. Alfiee is a psychologist with over 20 years of experience in health disparities research and is a non-profit founder in her own right with the AAKOMA Project, an organization within the Collaborative dedicated to raising awareness of mental health issues in children, teens, and young adults. That mission is echoed by the first pillar of the Mental Wealth Alliance.

Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble

Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble

Teach

While it's hard to discuss COVID-19 as a vessel for any kind of societal improvement, it has led to more discussions around mental health and increased awareness of the struggles that people face on a daily basis.

"There are a lot more conversations about mental health than there have been in the past," Dr. Alfiee says, noting that millennials and Gen Z are largely driving these conversations. "With that said, in communities of color, I think there are still some challenges around people feeling really comfortable seeking care."

For Dr. Alfiee and the MWA, the earlier folks become comfortable with those conversations, the better. The "Teach" pillar is focused on implementing mental health programs in schools and supporting relevant legislation in the government. The MWA strives to make sure that the issues of all young people of color have a place to be heard, including those in the LGBTQ community who may face additional mental health struggles. "We make sure that all of who young people are is included," Dr. Alfiee says.

Having a prominent voice like Charlamagne's leading the way plays a large role in making this happen, Dr. Alfiee says. "If he's talking about [mental health] and reflecting on his own experiences, that gives other people the opportunity to see themselves reflected in who he is. He's using language that resonates with people who look like him," she says.

Charlamagne tha God

Eco-Friendly Wardrobe—Sweater and Jeans: Rag and Bone; Sneakers: Veja; Jai Lennard

Another component of teaching is literally that—teaching people strategies for self-care and coping with daily mental health struggles, whether or not they are seeking therapy.

Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble

The same things that I teach people are the same things I do for myself. One of the biggest is mindfulness, being present—I'm here with you in this moment.

— Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble

"Working out is really important," Dr. Alfiee says, "less so for what it does physically, much more so for how it helps de-stress." She also recommends simple strategies like going out into nature and going for walks.

The MWA and the organizations within the Collaborative for Black Mental Wealth are working to change the underlying systems that prevent this kind of mental health awareness, while also providing direct guidance and help wherever possible, including help for the future Dr. Alfiees of the world.

Train

Perhaps the most pivotal pillar of the MWA is to train so that the percentage of Black mental health professionals (currently 4%) better represents the percentage of Black people living in the U.S. (14%). Dr. Alfiee says the challenges of improving mental healthcare in Black communities go beyond increasing individual efforts to seek care.

"It's finding people who are culturally competent," she says. "If we're going to increase the degree to which people of color and Black people, in particular, are excited about and invested in going to care, they've got to have both Black mental health professionals and other people who may not be Black, but who need to be culturally competent."

By not only increasing the cultural competence of existing providers but also increasing the number of Black students who enter these fields through scholarship funds, the MWA is looking to break down some of the barriers toward treatment in Black communities.

One such barrier tied to cultural competence is the issue of intergenerational trauma. "People don't know what it looks like. They've never been taught," Dr. Alfiee says. "If you haven't seen it, there's no way for you to know that you need to do something different. Black people, in particular, are societally encouraged to not speak about our trauma."

At the cross-section of teaching, training, and treating, the MWA provides a space for people to learn that they aren't alone in struggling with these issues. "You don't have to suffer," Dr. Alfiee says, "you can get help and work through it."

It's also continuing what Dr. Alfiee sees as a positive societal trend in our collective investment. "What has changed a lot is more investment in Black people and amplifying their stories," she says. "It's not that there are new voices; it's that they now have outlets where people can hear them and see them." This shift in Black mental health awareness, outreach, and outspokenness is something she doesn't know would have been possible 10-20 years ago.

Treat

Ultimately, the goal of the Mental Wealth Alliance is to ensure that people in Black communities receive equitable mental health care, both in terms of accessibility and quality. The immediate specific goal is to provide over 10,000 hours of free mental healthcare for Black individuals—by Black mental health practitioners. Dr. Alfiee sees this as a useful entry point to provide therapy for individuals who didn't have access to it in the past.

As a researcher in health disparities, Dr. Alfiee notes that the disparities in mental health are generally not in who has mental health conditions, but rather in who is treated for them.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, fewer than half of the 52 million Americans with a mental illness in 2020 received mental health services that year.

The gap is starker across racial lines, with 51.8% of white adults with any mental illness receiving services, compared to:

  • 37.1% of Black or African-American adults
  • 35.1% of Hispanic or Latinx adults
  • 20.8% of Asian adults

"Money is a barrier," Dr. Alfiee says, "but if you're providing 1000s of hours of free mental health services, you just removed the barriers for anybody who says I don't have money to pay for it." It's also a way to help normalize therapy for those who may be skeptical.

"You can at least try it," she says. "People try it, and they say, 'Oh, this isn't so bad. This is what I've been missing.'" The idea, Dr. Alfiee says, is to expose individuals to help in a safe environment with providers who will make them feel safe. This is where Charlamagne's involvement can be particularly important as well—to help reduce the stigmas around mental health for men, and Black men in particular.

The Mental Wealth Alliance in Action

Along with its three-pillared approach, the MWA is using Charlamagne's voice and platform to reach people through special events, particularly focused on in-depth conversations with other prominent Black figures. For World Mental Health Day, the MWA organized a full-day event called the Mental Wealth Expo, billed as a day of mental health and healing education.

The event featured Charlamagne, Dr. Alfiee, Michelle Williams of Destiny's Child, and more, and included breakout rooms with various mental health experts to provide guidance on a number of mental health issues. Dr. Alfiee is proud of what events like this can do for people who may be struggling.

Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble

We talk about the way in which racism, discrimination, homophobia, transphobia, all these things seep into your DNA. When we don't take the time to heal, we don't give ourselves an opportunity, either emotionally or physically, to be better. The Mental Wealth Alliance gives people a space to acknowledge what it's like to experience that.

— Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble

Another expo is planned for this coming October. For more on the Mental Wealth Alliance, to see videos of prior events and more info on its upcoming initiatives, you can follow the MWA on Instagram or make a donation through its homepage.

"An individual may have 10 cents to donate," Dr. Alfiee says, "and literally every penny counts. Corporations have millions to invest into these different communities and I have seen many of them working to do that. Those kinds of things make me super hopeful."