In 2007, Angel Barnwell, the current business manager at Slutty Vegan Atlanta, was struggling with severe depression. This depression led her to begin her journey with therapy. 

During one of her therapy sessions, she came up with the idea of “Smile Heaux,” a non-profit foundation devoted to promoting mental health awareness. Her idea has since come to fruition.

Smile Heaux is a minority-led, Atlanta-based foundation that works to ensure anyone can receive access to quality mental health care. 

“The therapy session had a lot to do with some of the trauma I’ve been dealing with,” said Barnwell. “Then it hit me: I don’t look like what I’ve gone through. I wanted to make something catchy for people to feel good about themselves. We smile to get through it.” 

According to Smile Heaux’s company bio, “The Smile Heaux Foundation’s vision is to eradicate stigmas around mental health conditions within the Black community.” 

In the Black community, mental health issues are also compounded with the systematic racism that Black people face. Because of this, Black adults are 20% more likely to report psychological distress than white adults. 

Unfortunately, Black people are also less likely to receive treatment for their mental health struggles. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, only 1 in 3 Black adults who need mental health care receive it. The American Psychiatric Association also says that African Americans are less likely to receive guideline-consistent care, be included in mental health research or see mental health specialists. 

There is also a scarcity of Black mental health professionals. According to the American Psychiatric Association, only 2% of the estimated 41,000 psychiatrists in the U.S. are Black, and just 4% of psychologists are Black. Additionally, Black Americans are also often misdiagnosed by their white mental health professionals due to implicit racial biases.

All of these factors lead to the stigmas around mental health in the Black community. Having a mental health diagnosis is often seen as a “weakness” or a “personal flaw.” Barnwell talks about the stigmas she has faced during her own mental health journey. 

“Just talking about having a therapist causes people to give me a second look,” Barnwell said. “There is a purpose in therapy. It’s not just a white people thing.”

Barnwell plans to expose the citizens of Atlanta to Black therapists and psychologists, along with hosting several mental health workshops in the coming year. 

“I would love to have opportunities to expose people to therapy,” Barnwell said. “There are so many Black therapists and psychologists out there.”

Despite aiming to eradicate stigmas in the Black community, Smile Heaux is not only available to Black people. Everyone is welcome to recieve help from the foundation. 

“This foundation is for everyone, regardless of their background or tax bracket. We all deal with trauma, so come as you are,” she said.

In the coming year, Barnwell plans to have Smile Heaux work with nonprofit organizations to offer its services to the city of Atlanta. She is also currently releasing a Smile Heaux clothing line to spread mental health awareness worldwide.