March 7 -11, 2022 was proclaimed Black Mental week in the province of Ontario. This provides the opportunity for us to reflect on the state of Black mental health and to consider how we can advocate for crucial changes to better meet the needs of the diverse Black communities.
Mental health is a state of cognitive, emotional, psychological, physical, and social wellbeing and historically the mental health of people of African descent has been threatened by experiences of colonization, oppression, and trauma.
More recently, the pandemic has disproportionately affected Black people in all indicators including loss of life, unemployment, loss of housing and food insecurity. The social inequities contributed to more marginalization, criminalization, and victimization among Black families.
The community has also been dealing with the effects of gang and gun violence that negatively impacted the state of Black mental health and led to increased suicide, especially among Black youth.
Ironically, this is a community that not only is at an elevated risk of mental illness but also utilizes mental health services at a rate that is much lower than the general population. This is partly because of the lack of culturally safe and affirming mental health services.
Yet, despite seemingly insurmountable odds, it would be a mistake to view the Black community as a representation of deprivation and vulnerability because this community has shown incredible resistance and resilience in the face of unrelenting threats to our collective mental health.
However, we must acknowledge that the influence of “Black Strength “ has contributed to a significant number of Black people not getting the mental health treatment and support they need. We must also accept and be honest with ourselves about the stigma, secrecy and shame that is still attached to mental illness within our community and begin to speak more openly about it.
We cannot afford to continue suffering in silence and must learn to support each other more as we navigate a very fragmented mental health system.
Black Mental Health Canada is committed to promoting and facilitating access to mental health care to the diverse Black communities. We are receptive to working with individuals and organizations to advance this agenda.
As we take some time to reflect, we hope to deepen our commitment to be a part of the change. We need to support the Black communities in sustaining better mental health because we believe that good mental health is the most important thing in life.