GREENBELT, Md. — A behavioral health center in Prince George's County is working to offer all health services under one roof as they work to erase the stigma of seeking help for mental health in the Black community.
“Before I came to the programs, I had a doctor... It wasn't the best," Thomas Rouse said.
Rouse is a new client at Volunteers of America's Hope Center in Greenbelt.
The center opened in July 2020 with the goal of providing everything from primary care to mental health services under one roof, in particular targeting low-income, uninsured, or under-insured community members.
A spokesperson for the center said about 90% of the center's clientele is Black or African American --- a group that Dr. B said has experienced multiple barriers to healthcare for years.
“One of the things I learned working at some of the other organizations I've been in is nobody ever talks to each other. So you basically get a salami slice patient where everybody's doing great things in their own little silos, but there's no cross-pollination of information," Executive Director Dr. Dan Bochicchio said. "And that usually is not what's best for the patient. Here, my psychiatrist is right up the hallway, my therapists are across the hall.”
Rouse said he's noticed a difference in care.
“Everybody's respectful. Everybody's caring. Everybody is…willing to pitch in to help and do what they can to provide anything that I need," he said.
Recently, he was homeless and got connected with Covenant House, a homeless resource center for young people.
They work with the Hope Center to connect young people like Rouse with the medical services they likely haven't been receiving.
“Didn't grow up in a household where they actually cared," he said.
Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health shows that Rouse isn't alone in feeling that way.
It shows in 2019, suicide was the second-leading cause of death for Black and African Americans ages 15 to 24 -- an age group in which Rouse belongs.
The department also said that poverty exacerbates the problem.
When it comes to mental health, so does the stigma of asking for help.
“It's very difficult for anybody to, you know, to walk up to somebody and say, I can't deal with the problems that I'm being faced with," Dr. Bochicchio said.
Now, Volunteers for America has launched the People Like Us campaign to try to show community members that anyone can struggle with their mental health -- and so many do.
Now that he's receiving help through the center, Rouse said he's ready to focus on making positive changes in his life, like becoming a chef.
“This is a big step to life -- to bigger things in life," he said.