When Public Health advocate Kevin Dedner was looking for a therapist to treat his depression, he found the process to be exhausting. “I almost gave up, but a friend recommended a therapist who helped me get my life back on track,” said Dedner. This experience was one of several occurrences that inspired him to add mental health and wellness for black men to his life’s mission.
Throughout Dedner’s career in public health, he’s spearheaded policy and system changes in areas such as HIV/AIDS, childhood obesity, and tobacco control. Now, with the launch of Henry Health, Dedner, along with a diverse group of black leaders are on a mission to improve access to mental health for black men and increase the life expectancy of black men by 10 years within the next 25 years. Recently, Henry Health was accepted into the Startup Health accelerator program. Dedner discusses his latest initiative in an interview.
Black Enterprise: Why do you think black men need an exclusive space?
Kevin Dedner: I believe black men are having a unique experience in this country. And, while I don’t believe that you have to be black to treat black people, I do believe you have to be culturally sensitive and competent. It’s naive to think that the experiences that black men have just on a normal day are good for our emotional and mental health. From being accused of plagiarism in college because the professor couldn’t imagine that I could write to being pulled over by the police multiple times as a teenager and an adult, these are examples of what every black man experiences in daily life. These experiences can be traumatic and can have a negative impact on our emotional well-being, physical health, and ultimately—in some cases—our life expectancy once compiled.
How does Henry Health work?
We have plans to launch the app this September in the Washington, DC metro area. Men will be able to download our app or sign-in on our platform. From there, they will take an assessment. Paying subscribers will be paired with a therapist post-assessment. Our digital app and platform will not only offer culturally sensitive teletherapy to black men, but we also recognize that health outcomes are influenced by many factors including diet, physical activity, setting reasonable goals, and managing stress. All users—subscribers and non-subscribers—will have access to self-care support, tools that support them in taking better care of themselves. We have not finalized our pricing. We feel confident that investors will respond in a way that will enable us to scale very quickly.
Can you share three specific ways you hope Henry Health will change the face of mental health and wellness for African American men?
- Increase the life expectancy of black men by 10 years within the next 25 years. Our approach to care includes a focus on self-care support and mental health services. We look at this through the lens of five stressors for black men: money and finances, race and racism, jobs and career, relationships and family, and health and illness. Helping them make better decisions in these areas and helping them to develop coping skills will have a great impact.
- Lead the culture shift conversation around accessing mental health services in the African American community. We are beginning to see celebrities speak publicly about their struggles with mental health issues. For example, Jay-Z has talked about how therapy had helped him. Dwayne the Rock Johnson has talked about his challenges with depression. The next step is an offering of culturally-sensitive services for the community. Our digital campaign, #ReclaimOurStrength in partnership with Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. is an example of how we can take a leadership role in facilitating the conversation.
- Make culturally-sensitive services accessible. Less than 3% of the therapists in the country are people of color so we can’t possibly produce African American therapists fast enough to fill the void. Our intention is to make sure therapists regardless of their color are culturally-sensitive and competent to meet the needs of black men. It doesn’t matter where the men or the therapists live.