Sista Afya executive director Camesha Jones speaks in the group therapy room at the center's new offices, 1817 E. 71st St. in South Shore. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago

SOUTH SHORE — Therapists at a South Side mental health clinic are preparing to restart some in-person sessions. But now they’ll do so from a new office on 71st Street.

Sista Afya Community Mental Wellness, which focuses on providing mental health care to Black women, debuted its new location at 1817 E. 71st St. with a grand opening Friday. The clinic in South Shore is a half-block from its old location.

Sista Afya offers eight free therapy sessions to people making less than $1,500 per month, and it has a sliding-scale therapy program with an option to pay through insurance for people of all other income levels.

Other services include mental health workshops for groups and an $85 monthly membership for people who make less than $1,750 per month. That membership includes two therapy sessions and access to the center’s programs.

“Anybody can come to us for services because we have so many options,” Executive Director Camesha Jones said.

Over the next couple of months, Sista Afya will hire three more therapists: one focused on serving patients on the sliding-scale fee system, and two other general therapists.

The clinic’s expansion and move comes as therapists have seen an increase in demand for mental health services over the past year.

A Sista Afya sign hangs in the window of the mental health center’s new offices at 1817 E. 71st St. in South Shore. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago

Because of the pandemic, more people have been pushed to realize, “I do need someone I can check in with who can offer support with my anxiety, my depression, my trauma,” Jones said.

“The need has always been there, but taking the step to actually go to therapy … wasn’t as strong as it is right now,” she said. “The pandemic has caused people to have mental health challenges, but it’s also woken people up to the fact that mental health services are something that can really benefit you long term.”

After more than a year restricted to online treatment, Sista Afya will start in-person and group sessions this fall on a limited basis.

Face-to-face sessions allow patients “to have that separation between home and therapy,” Jones said. That’s especially important for mothers who have struggled “to have a therapy session when you have 3- and 4-year-olds running around behind you,” and for women facing domestic violence.

Virtual elements will remain in place, as the clinic’s end goal is offering a hybrid model that also accounts for patients who need or want treatment from home.

“As humans, we need to be connected with one another in person,” Jones said. “I am a little wary about the mental health field leaning too much into everything virtual. I really believe in a hybrid model that could be able to meet the needs of people with various challenges and with various preferences.”

Sista Afya centers Black women living on the South Side, though women of all races receive care from the center, Jones said.

“There’s kind of this drought on the South Side of high-quality, affordable, accessible mental health care that’s specifically for women,” she said.

Executive director Camesha Jones poses in the center’s lobby. Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago

However, the pandemic and the subsequent shift online “has made us more accessible” to people who don’t live in Sista Afya’s “target area.” That roughly covers the area from Bronzeville south to Chatham, and from Englewood east to the lake.

There’s a clear issue of access in the mental health field in these communities, as “there are definitely people who are living in poverty and don’t have the means” to attend therapy, Jones said.

And people who can afford mental health services are sometimes scared off by the price, and will choose to spend their money on other things, she said.

With that in mind, Sista Afya aims to not only help struggling residents afford its services, but encourage all residents to treat mental wellness as a necessity — especially in Black communities like South Shore.

“We want people to be able to access us, but we also want people to know that it’s worth it to invest in their mental health,” Jones said.

For more information on payment and fees, click here. Community members can see mental health resources through Sista Afya’s website.

Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.

Already subscribe? Click here to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation.