New program matches young adults with low-cost mental health therapy

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By Bill Motchan , Special to the Jewish Light

COVID-19 has left a trail of unpleasant byproducts over the past 2years, including mental health issues. A study conducted by the COVID States Project found that young adults are the group hardest hit by COVID-related depression. A National Alliance on Mental Health study found COVID affected young adults with feelings of isolation and impacted their sleep habits.

Compounding the problem: Young adults tend not to seek therapy for depression. 

To address the problem, a trio of concerned individuals from the St. Louis Jewish community have created a low-cost therapy program for young adults, which includes a free initial therapy session specifically for them, followed by four sessions at $10 each.

The program, which began in late August and is funded for one year, is made possible by a Jewish Federation of St. Louis grant. The primary architects are Shira Berkowitz, board president of MaTovu; Liessa Alperin, director of innovative learning, youth and engagement at Congregation B’nai Amoona; and Dena Tranen, founder of the Care Collective.

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One key to success in the program is matching therapists with young adults who need help. Those potential patients may be reluctant to enter therapy for any number of reasons, like simply taking time off from work, Berkowitz said.

“When therapy is not talked about, it’s one of those things that is stigmatized and then just falls away,” she said. “So when this grant opportunity came available, Liessa approached me and said, ‘I have an idea of how we can work through some of the things, let’s take a stab at it and try it.’ ”

Tranen said the Care Collective was a natural fit to partner with B’nai Amoona and MaTovu.

“We’re a group of therapists who support an intentional community to share space and support families,” Tranen said. “We also help launch new therapists into private practice. And we had a similar program at the very beginning of COVID, where we got volunteer therapists on board to provide lower cost counseling to first responders and frontline workers, and we had a lot of success.

“We’re drawing from some of those people, as well as some of the clinicians in the Care Collective directly who are passionate about using their expertise to work with folks that don’t necessarily come into the traditional channel. In the last couple of weeks, we’ve already had between eight and 10 new folks coming in. Our goal is to get people matched within a day. Our success is in the community responding by saying mental health matters and these folks in our community matter.”

Among mental health professionals, the program is open to any therapist who is trauma trained. To create awareness among young adults that the program is available, Alperin said, the team has shared information with every St. Louis area congregation. And while it was developed by the Jewish community and funded by Federation, it’s open to young adults of any faith.

“One of the greatest things I think about this program is that barrier isn’t there,” Alperin said. “The Jewish Federation does not just serve the Jewish population.”

That made MaTovu an effective organization for the program, too, Berkowitz said.

“We are a neighborhood center and are formed under the Jewish umbrella,” she said. “That is why we exist, to be a convener in our community under Jewish principles. But most people that come through our building are city residents and would not necessarily identify as Jewish.”

Tranen said the program is especially important, given the stresses young adults face.

“September is Suicide Prevention Month, so I’m very grateful that there is an opportunity to let people know about mental health programs and normalize mental health,” Tranen said. “And I think we’re off to a really great start. I think the work that Shira and Liessa put into this to launch this is extraordinary.”

The collaborative low-cost therapy program is completely confidential and open to any 20-to-40-year-old age group. For more information, visit Care Collective online.