EACH YEAR, MENTAL ILLNESS IS HIGHLIGHTED IN THE MONTH OF JANUARY  

“What doesn’t kill you may make you weaker”

Mental illness

Adult Black Community

 

Have you ever wondered about the challenges faced by those in the Black community in the assessment and diagnosis of mental illness and why they sometimes have such a lengthy recovery, once diagnosed?

We have heard the saying “What does not kill you, makes you stronger.” This may be true in many situations but not when it comes to mental illness in the Black populations. Without acknowledging a mental health problem, accessing treatment in a timely manner, with a focus of getting well, one will only get weaker and unable to function effectively in society.

For African, Caribbean and Black Canadians, the struggle with mental illness is often silent. Many of us have seen how uncomfortable the topic of mental illness is; whether it is a discussion among family members, work colleagues, doctor, or friends; everyone expresses unease because they are unsure of how to respond. The expectations that one has of self also deters us from having such a discussion.

We tell ourselves that Black people do not have time to be anxious or get depressed. There is too much work to do. There are too many situations that need to be managed across the systems in the country we live.

There are unique societal pressures that a Black person experiences, that other cultures do not have to manage. In our culture, we expect both men and women to be always strong no matter the challenges with which they are presented.  This creates barriers in how we navigate help. It is expected that there is no need for you to be seen by a psychologist or psychiatrist as this will bring shame on your family. This secret should be kept in the family. Sometimes you can talk with a friend or pastor but unfortunately, they do not have the skills to manage your mental health. Where do you go to find help?

Racism is a reality for Blacks and other minorities, whether you are born in Canada, or you have immigrated here. A Black person struggles with navigating the systems to get help. Racism in all its forms is bad for mental health. It can be the root cause of your mental illness. It has been determined that all forms of racism are psychologically and physically harmful to Black people. Many encounter racism on a variety of levels: from blatant marginalization, lengthy wait times for access to culturally sensitive professionals, low income (do not have money to pay the cost for ongoing treatment) and must therefore wait for free clinics or hospitals appointments while their health deteriorate.

Some of the other barriers are stigma, stereotypes, expectations of others and self, poverty, and inability to access culturally sensitive healthcare professionals. The media and the entertainment industry also play a role in shaping public opinion about mental health and illness. They are often depicted as dangerous, violent, and unpredictable.

The stigma that accompanies mental illness leaves a mark of shame that makes people feel different and socially excluded. An individual can also add to this stigma by hiding the problem. For example, an employee may need to take medication accompanied by therapy. In the workplace they are afraid to discuss this challenge with their employers. They often miss their appointments if they are only available during workhours, and they hide in bathrooms to take their medications.

There are significant consequences to public misconceptions and fears about mental illness. The stakes are high as undetected mental illness can prevent people from attaining post-secondary education, hamper their ability to form healthy relationships and interfere with quality of life and career goals.

Mental health for Blacks must be taken seriously. Do not be afraid to share and discuss when you are not feeling like yourself such as having insomnia, lethargy, feeling sad or down, excessive worry, decreased socialization and changes in your mood.  So how do you get treatment for yourself?  Blacks take pride in our strength to withstand stress of everyday life but trying to push through the pain by yourself is not best for your health. Talk to someone, do not be afraid, learn to access effective mental health treatment. You will not be able to maintain a healthy well-being trying to heal your own self.

Our society is greatly in need of honest conversations at every level. Learn to navigate the healthcare systems, advocate for culturally trained professionals, ensure your family doctor does physical and mental assessment when you visit and don’t be ashamed of sharing with someone when you are not mentally healthy.

Mental Health Clinic. Call today for help. 416-849-4776

Canadian Mental Health Association Peel. 905-451-2123

Catholic Family Services of Peel. 905-897-1644

Family Services of Peel. 905-4535775

Telehealth ON 1-866-797-0000