After eight people died and hundreds were injured in a suffocating mosh pit at his concert this past Friday night—with many more undoubtedly traumatized by the events—Travis Scott is working with the therapy app BetterHelp to offer counseling to those affected by the tragedy.
Scott is sponsoring a promotion for free, one-on-one therapy for a limited time, he announced via press release Monday. He will also be working with the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health America to further provide help for anyone harmed during his headlining performance at Astroworld, the rapper’s annual festival. These moves follow his prior pledge to cover all funeral costs for the families of those who died.
Perhaps this olive branch to victims doesn’t seem like much, or even seems icky. It doesn’t help increase the legitimacy of all this that the release describes Scott as having “partnered with” BetterHelp—the kind of language used to announce that one is, say, raking in money to lend one’s name to a fast food brand, as Scott did with McDonald’s in 2020. (Scott will not be paid for the partnership, BetterHelp has clarified: “Following the tragic event at Astroworld, Travis Scott’s team reached out to us with an initiative to cover the cost of therapy for those who were impacted,” reads a statement from the company.) It also doesn’t help that BetterHelp is, well, a teeny, tiny bit scammy: The app might be best known for its text-based counseling offerings, which are both appealing on their face and not backed by very much science. The platform does not take insurance, and though it offers “financial aid,” this amounts to a 25 percent-off coupon that users need to renew every few months.
In a perfect world, maybe Scott would hand out envelopes of cash to help those who are suffering as a result of the chaotic show, instead of seizing on the chance to be the latest celebrity to get behind an imperfect mental health solution. There is even an easy way to do just that: Many victims’ families have GoFundMe pages set up. Forming relationships with mental health organizations, including one that’s based on an app, should absolutely not be the end of what happens here to make amends.
But, even as someone who cringes when I see celebrities “partner” with mental health orgs (it strikes me as largely a branding move for them) and when I hear my favorite podcast hosts read BetterHelp ads (there are online therapy platforms out there that actually take insurance, for one), I do believe this to be a reasonably good use case of the service. In addition to text therapy, BetterHelp does offer weekly video sessions with a licensed professional as part of its standard package, and the partnership’s one-month offer includes four of those sessions. BetterHelp will not automatically bill for more therapy after that month, and will provide “extended therapy support” after the month is up “at no cost to those who need it,” according to a statement. Online therapy via a virtual platform, which has become pretty normal during the pandemic anyway, is relatively easy to deploy compared to, say, trying to set people up with individual therapists at private practices. BetterHelp isn’t the first company of its kind to jump in in the wake of a tragedy, either; in 2017, AmWell waived its counseling fees for folks affected by Hurricane Harvey. And BetterHelp is just one of a few avenues being established for concert-goers to get help. The NAMI is establishing a dedicated hotline with the initials “CJ” in the phone number, likely for Scott’s foundation (which shares a name with his record label), Cactus Jack, and NAMI’s Houston chapter will “ensure access to various counseling services,” according to the press release
None of this is totally satisfying, even viewed from a distance—after all, people died and sustained serious injuries during a hyped-up music festival performance, what they need is complex and up to them. The videos detailing taken from those in the crowd look very, very scary. After-the-fact mental counseling services—and just one month of them at that!—are absolutely no substitute for proper safety measures. It’s certainly possible for further actions to occur that would turn the Travis Scott-BetterHelp partnership from a social good-slash-PR move into regular old opportunism. Maybe a celebrity jumping into a “partnership” days after a devastating tragedy just feels plain icky to you, no matter what.
It would be far better if mental health care were easy to access all the time, and “celebrity partnering to provide therapy” were just a total nonsense notion, rather than a somewhat practical one. But what accountability looks like here (and even who owes it) is more than what a weekend news cycle can resolve. Mental healthcare is expensive, and can be difficult to access. Which is why, as those involved continue to work out what a satisfying response to Friday’s tragedy truly looks like, free therapy is a start. At the very least, it stands to help some people who receive it.
Update, Nov. 11 2021: This post was updated to reflect new information provided by BetterHelp on whether they are paying Scott, and whether they will start charging users after their free month of therapy is up.