Kevin Dedner, CEO of Hurdle, on the Sociological Factors and Microaggressions Impacting Black Male Mental Health

Kevin Dedner, Founder & CEO of mental health startup Henry Health.
Photo Credit: Paul Newson
Kevin Dedner serves as Founder and CEO of Hurdle. Hurdle is mental healthcare for invisible barriers. Primed to lead culturally intentional mental healthcare services, Hurdle provides a comprehensive suite of mental health services and self-mastery tools to employers and payers to meet the needs of their employees and members. Hurdle’s therapists are trained in an evidence-based technique that improves cultural humility and responsiveness.

Name: Kevin Dedner
Role: Founder and CEO, Hurdle (formerly Henry Health) 
Based in:  Washington, DC
Age: 43

1. In your words, tell me who you are.

I am a father, a brother, and a son. For me, these are the most important roles I play in life. Outside of those, I am a founder and a leader working to reinvent what mental healthcare looks like.

2. How is Henry Health innovating the mental health space?

Hurdle is a disruptive digital community created to arrest the toxic stress, depression, and anxiety killing too many black men too soon. We are laser-focused on serving Black men because they have the lowest life expectancy of any population. Research tells us that our low life expectancy is connected to disproportionately high rates of unmanaged stress and untreated mental health issues. We are working to change that.

3. With your mission to increase the life expectancy of black men by 10 more years, what are some goals you and your team are looking forward to for Henry Health as it grows? 

We exist to ensure black men can show up whole, operate with joy and live with power. That’s just not a catchy phrase for us. Henry Health members will have the ability to track their wellbeing over time. We hope to learn from their progress and use that insight to inform the development of new features and services that support their continued healing and self-mastery. 

4. Henry Health recognizes the need for personalization in mental health solutions and products, and your team does so, by having created a pilot app that specifically serves the black, male demographic. You speak to the unique sociological pressures of the black male community that can affect physical, mental, and certainly emotional health. Can you educate us on some of the unique sociological factors or external stressors that impact the wellbeing of black males? 

That’s a really great question; thank you for asking it. Research shows that black individuals report more chronic stress than whites and are two to three times as likely to experience financial strain and housing-related stress. Black children experience Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) at a significantly higher rate than white children, and those experiences have long-term negative effects on health. In 2016, 60 percent of black children reported experiencing at least one ACE compared to 40 percent of non-Hispanic white children. 

National data also shows that while black men are more likely to be impacted by trauma and stress, they are less likely to receive professional support. Black adults use mental health services at about half the rate of their white counterparts. 

Beyond the factors that commonly trigger mental health issues, Black men must also carry the day to day stress of being a Black man, which often presents itself unconsciously in normal activities. Black men report experiencing racial microaggressions —insults, invalidations, and interpersonal slights (subtle and sometimes unintentional) – which are linked to symptoms of anxiety and depression. Black men also suffer from impostor syndrome, a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts his accomplishments in professional settings and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.  

5. You refer back often to how interrelated our mental wellbeing is with our physical wellbeing, like how the detriment of one’s mental health can lead to physical illness and substantially impact life expectancy rates. This alludes to the need that communities need to be approaching health, total health through a holistic lens. Do you observe this need being recognized and addressed in our communities today?

My general belief is that human beings have long held the answers to how to live well. Somewhere along the way, we lost our knowledge of the importance of self-care and restorative practices that help us cope with stress.  I think the loss is wrapped up in a myriad of reasons, including western work culture and increased exposure to technology. The bottom line is that we were not designed to be as busy as we are. For example, research tells us that most adults need 8 hours of sleep so that our brains can do the maintenance work required to preserve our memories and ensure peak performance. However, you often hear people brag about only needing a few hours of sleep. This is a cultural failure that we must work to correct. The good news is there is a movement afront that is centered on people making time to reflect, meditate, eat well, exercise, and so forth. These practices  are key to holistic wellbeing, and our communities are increasingly recognizing the link between these practices and overall health. It is important that these practices not be reserved for higher income or higher social status people. We must make sure that we reintroduce these tools to everyone in ways that make them accessible and relatable.

6. What has your personal experience or relationship been with the word, “self-care”?

I suffered from depression that was stimulated by mental exhaustion. As I was recovering from depression, self-care became extremely important to me. I think that we all need a self-care routine. My routine may not work for you. For example, I know folks who play video games to relieve their stress. That’s not my thing, but I am happy that they have found what work. All of us need our own practice.

7. Describe your wellness regimen if you have one. What are some actions you take to keep yourself well mentally, emotionally, and/or spiritually?

You are really digging deep. I wake up naturally every morning at about 515AM. I lay in bed for about ten mins. In this space, I pray and ask God to bless my day. I then go to the kitchen and put on some water for my coffee! During my first cup of coffee, I normally read a devotion of some type, some type of positive message. I then meditate and pray for about another 10 mins. By that time, noise starts to arise in my house so I become more active too. I move on with my day.  I also have rules with my team about how I schedule my time. I require a 30 minutes buffer between every meeting = I need time to process my thoughts and reflect on the meetings. I also make sure that I can pick up my kids at least two days a week from school. I walk to the train every day. I take the stairs and I am aware of where my food came from and what’s in it. These are just a few of my practices.

8. Letters to My Younger Self: If you had any advice to give to your younger self, what would it be? 

For some reason, I thought I had to have it all figured out. I created so much unneeded anxiety and pressure. Life works out. The Universe is always conspiring for our good. That’s the best advice I have for younger people and even my young self who still resides in me!

9. Would you care to share with us a couple of your favorite wellness or skincare picks? 

I have been using your products and they are delightful. Never thought, I’d be using an anti aging product, but I have gotten so many compliments on my skin, I think I will continue. Thank you for sharing your products with me!

Interview by Susan Yoomin Im and Theophila Lee

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