In 2013, Camesha Jones was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after being hospitalized more than once. When she got out of the hospital, she searched for support but had trouble finding it in the community. She was the only black woman in her outpatient therapy session and said she felt like an outsider.
“I couldn’t find any black therapists at the time — I didn’t know where to start,” Jones said. “So, I decided to do something about it.”
That is when she created Sista Afya, a mental health and well-being private practice for Black women on the South Side. The original idea was an online platform but shortly after the launch, Sista Afya became a community-based business offering low-cost mental wellness services. Opened in May, the practice still offers online therapy, but also offers individual therapy on a sliding scale, group therapy, workshops and free social events centered around holistic well-being.
“Sista Afya is my love letter to black women who live with mental health conditions,” she said. “This is my purpose in life, but Sista Afya is literally what I didn’t have.”
Jones, a licensed social worker with a Masters from the University of Chicago, also created BOLD & bipolar, a photo blog that celebrates the brilliance, beauty, and boldness of people living with bipolar disorder.
Along with therapist Latania Franklin and consultant Sequoya Hayes, the Sista Afya team believes in the power of community and healing.
“Black people historically have been a collectivist culture — community is literally the backbone of our culture so [we are] making sure that people don’t feel alone in the same ways I felt alone navigating mental health,” Jones said.
July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, and Jones said that is exactly what her organization is working toward. While there are expanding services and normalization locally and in the U.S. for mental health, Jones said people often forget to talk about access and affordability. Sista Afya’s aim is to make mental health and wellbeing affordable for its South Shorecommunity.
“We primarily focus on serving young adults because they experience the height of their mental health crisis in their 20s and 30s,” she said.
She said mental health is a social justice issue important for black women. Sista Afya is working to close the disparity for services on the South Sideand make the private practice part of the beautiful movement Jones sees forming around mental wellness.
“I see us being mentally well as tied to our liberation and our freedom. When people are mentally well, a community is mentally well, a family is mentally well,” she said. “It changes the trajectory of people’s lives, so this mental wellness movement is not necessarily about a trend; for me it’s about people experiencing the most optimum life they have. That starts with healing the mind and body.”