Arlington Teen Launches Mental Health Nonprofit

Free2Talk connects Virginia youth with financial assistance and access to much-needed therapy providers.
Oct 2022 Lord Mount Family 82

Arlington teen and Free2Talk founder William Mount (family photo)

Bullying had left William Mount depressed to the point of feeling suicidal. Negative social dynamics and a lifelong stutter made him a target.

Somehow, the 16-year-old turned that pain into a positive. Last fall, he created Free2Talk, a nonprofit that helps Virginia youth gain access to speech and mental health therapy, providing financial assistance to those who can’t afford treatment.

So far, Free2Talk has connected seven patients between the ages of 6 and 19 with therapists, and has provided nearly $10,000 in financial aid. The organization has raised about $25,000 to date, building a network of six providers specializing in children’s mental health.

Free2Talk’s mission comes at a time when many counselors and therapists are overbooked and are not accepting new patients. Teen rates of depression and anxiety were already on the rise before Covid. The pandemic sent them soaring even higher.

“This has helped me kind of gain a little bit of purpose in my life. It has made me feel happy,” Mount says. “Helping other people gives me a sense of pride and joy.”

The idea for Free2Talk grew out of the harassment Mount experienced in ninth grade at a school he declines to name and no longer attends.

“He came to me and said he wanted to create this organization,” says his mother, Liz Lord, principal of the real estate company Arlva Homes. “We brainstormed and he came up with the idea of Free2Talk, which, frankly, I think is pretty catchy.”

Lord has experience as a social entrepreneur. Five years ago, she founded the Cold Capital Fund, a nonprofit that helps cancer patients pay for a treatment to prevent hair loss during chemotherapy. “I thought it would be fun to teach him how to create a nonprofit in the commonwealth of Virginia,” Lord says. “We laid all the groundwork for the organization in 2021.”

But then Mount hit a difficult period. The bullying “led to me having suicidality and just confining myself for a lot of the year,” he says. Planning for Free2Talk was put on hold.

Mount switched schools—he’s now a rising junior at Washington-Liberty—and started mental health treatment himself. Both changes, he says, have given him a new perspective. He and Lord resumed the planning phase last summer and launched Free2Talk in late fall of 2022.

“I can honestly thank [the bullies],” Mount says.  “Without them, I would be at a school that I didn’t like, and without this nonprofit.”

Free2Talk covers 80% of providers’ fees for patients who qualify under the nonprofit’s requirements. Patients—or their parents—fill out an online application stating what kind of therapy they’re looking for, their target number of sessions (eight, 12 or 16), and their income and expenses.

“It’s looking at the relationship between income and household expenses and trying to make a determination as to the extent of need by the parent or the teen, so there’s some degree of subjectivity to it,” Lord says.

Lord reviews applications with Nancy Kim, a pediatrician at Pediatrics of Arlington who has treated Mount since he was an infant and is now a director of Free2Talk.

Because of his age, Mount is not involved in making determinations about applicants’ eligibility. He focuses on marketing and fundraising.

Kim remembers Mount sharing his idea with her during a checkup about three years ago: “He said, ‘I’m thinking about starting a 501(c)3 organization called Free2Talk. I want to help kids who stutter like me.’ And I said, ‘I think if you expand it to mental health issues, mental health therapists, then it could help more individuals.’ ”

Mental health is at record lows in teens nationwide, with 42% of youth saying they feel persistently sad or hopeless, according to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One in five said they have contemplated suicide. Northern Virginia is not immune.

“Depression doubled between 2011 and 2021, the suicide rate doubled from 2010 to 2020, and therapists are in short supply.”

“I had noticed that during all my adolescent appointments, about half of them needed to see a therapist,” Kim says, “but it was so hard to get an appointment, and many of them have financial limitations.  Depression doubled between 2011 and 2021, the suicide rate doubled from 2010 to 2020, and on top of it, therapists are in short supply. We need more therapists, but the therapists haven’t really increased in numbers. Of the 100,000 United States clinical psychologists who just do the therapy, only 4,000 of them are child and adolescent clinicians.”

Kim began contacting area therapy practices such as the Arlington/DC Behavior Therapy Institute on Free2Talk’s behalf.  She asked if they would be willing to take on patients referred to them through the nonprofit. “I said, ‘I’m not asking for a discount. All I’m asking is that you give me access to your therapists.’ ”

Mount’s initial vision had been for Free2Talk to cover clients’ therapy expenses in full.  Kim offered a bit of advice she’d learned during her residency at Children’s National: When you offer free care, people sometimes don’t follow through. “I need some skin in the game from the client,” she advised. “If they have to [pay] a little bit, then they’ll come…The last thing I want to do is to have the therapist have this time carved out and the client doesn’t come.”

At the same time, co-pays are a hardship for some families. Lord says some clinical practices have expressed interest in joining Free2Talk’s provider network on the condition that patients come to the table with more financial aid. The nonprofit’s board is exploring ways to make that happen.

Getting Free2Talk off the ground has been, and continues to be a lot of work, Mount says. But it’s also been rewarding.

“I honestly feel grateful,” he says. “It helps me reflect on the fact that some people have it so much worse than I do and still find ways to find joy, find happiness. Seeing these people become better overall, and having parents email us, telling us that their kids are recovering, it’s honestly kept part of the depression away from me. I’ve found so many reasons to find joy and want to live.”

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Categories: Health