We have heard it all before “what does not kill you makes you stronger” which may be true in some cases but not when it comes to mental illness. For African, Caribbean and Black Canadians, the struggle for mental health is often a silent one said Stacey-Ann Buchanan, an actress presenting her film the Blind Stigma at a Black Health Alliance “Sound Mind” Mental Health Forum.

Mental Illness is truly invisible but that doesn’t make it any less real for those who are affected. In fact one in three Canadians experiences a  mental health problem each year.

Mental Health or well being for African Canadians, is a balanced and healthy outlook, attitude, behaviour and life practice that are consistently filled with joy, satisfaction, autonomy, a sense of purpose, a positive orientation, confidence,resilience, self -worth and a strongly affirmed racial, cultural and social identity.

While mental health revolves around health promotion and prevention of illness and dysfunction, mental illness refers to impairments in thinking that leads to significant distress and daily problems in living and may include chronic stress, stress-related trauma and depressive symptoms.

African Canadians are griped by an unfolding mental health crisis and a deep crisis of identity. Research indicates that Blacks access mental health services at a 50% late rate than any other group.

However, late access to treatment and support  must take into consideration the lack of culturally competence of mainstream mental health agencies, confusion about westernized concepts of mental illness, stigma, language barriers and racism.

Racism is complex, functions at different levels, has serious cognitive, interpersonal and environmental effects on individuals. Evidence shows that living in racialized countries can increase a person’s chance of developing anxiety and depression. Mental illness can be induced by direct and  vicarious trauma connected with being witnesses and victims of unrelenting state of violence, most vivid in police violence and brutality.

The Black community’s disproportionate involvement in the criminal justice system, community and interpersonal violence, only serves to exacerbate this plight. Precarious employment, underemployment and poverty are risk-factors for poor mental health. 

Blacks are plagues by poor community leadership in mental health and minimal holistic client-centred, anti-racist health prevention strategies and limited community representation in planning and programming.

As a result, mental illness goes unaddressed for the vast majority of Blacks, and often spiral into a whole ranges of other serious health problems including death. Culturally -rooted stigma associated with mental illness and stereotypes about the ‘strong’ Black woman and the ‘machismo’ Black man may prevent people from seeking help.

Our Canadian health care system is a maze and  navigating this system can be complex and confusing, further re-traumatizing individuals who need help.

 

Suggest the following improvement:

Advocate for more funding for prevention and treatment of mental illness; ensure that citizens are provided with one stop health care… at your entry point to health care, the health care team must provide directions and supports for any followup; make it routine for all health care assessments to include a mental health assessment; find out the local mental health resources in your community before there is a crisis; encourage more students of minority background to go into medicine to ensure professionals who understand the cultural needs, and encourage your local municipalities to deliver supports and services where people live.

 

Norma Nicholson, Author “Young Lives on the Line: You can make a difference” and Maame Debrah, Community Outreach Coordinator