By Megan Sayles
July is nationally recognized as Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) mental health month. During this time, focus is brought to the mental health needs of underrepresented minority communities and to their lack of access to adequate resources.
One emotional well-being resource that targets these communities is Katara McCarty’s EXHALE app, which was released on the App Store and Google Play in August 2020. The platform is designed for Black, Indigenous and women of color, and it provides users with meditations, guided visualizations, breathwork exercises and coaching. EXHALE is the first emotional well-being app designed by and for Black women.
McCarty was inspired to create the app in Spring 2020 after discovering that she was in need of a resource to manage her stress and anxiety. She learned that COVID-19 was disproportionately impacting the Black community, and this created anxiety about how to protect herself and her family from contracting the virus. Simultaneously, the Black community was shattered by the unjust police killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
“The impact of seeing someone that belongs to your community killed in your newsfeed over and over again was a level of stress, anxiety and trauma that I had not experienced in my lifetime, and I was trying to manage my own stress while also asking how I can show up for my community,” said McCarty.
She turned to established meditation apps to ease her worries but ultimately realized that they were completely out of touch with the Black experience. These apps did not offer any well-being practices that focused on her community.
“I was inspired to create the very thing I was looking for: a well-being resource to help manage my stress, my anxiety and my trauma as a Black woman,” said McCarty. She intentionally designed the app to alleviate not just the everyday stressors, but the stress that comes from oppression, systemic racism, misogyny and microaggressions.
According to McCarty, it can be difficult for Black and Brown communities to access therapists, mental health coaches and yoga instructors to work through their mental health burdens because of the expense. There are also stigmas that surround Black women’s disclosure of mental health crises.
“It feels like another mark against us so it’s challenging to be forthcoming and outright with what we are dealing with because the perception is that it’s just another thing that can prevent that door of opportunity opening for us,” said McCarty.
Since its release, users have said they finally feel like their oppression is being acknowledged rather than ignored, according to McCarty. She hopes that EXHALE can become the go-to resource for Black, Brown, and Indigenous women of color trying to cope with their mental health issues.
In the future, McCarty wants to expand the app to address the mental health needs of children in these communities, as well as add a telehealth component to connect users with therapists and coaches.