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Event on December 9 will champion a community approach to address unique factors, foster positive change for the future of Black Canadians and support five programs for children, young offenders, mental health education and a helpline

Toronto, Ont. – November 21, 2023 – Black Mental Health Canada (BMHC), a community-based non-profit organization that addresses the mental health needs of Black Canadians, is calling for professionals, industry leaders, agencies and influencers to join a gala event on December 9 in Toronto to help raise awareness of the distinctive mental health needs of Black Canadians and five programs designed to close the gaps.

According to a survey of Black Canadians, 60 per cent said they would be more willing to use mental health services if the mental health professional were Black. BMHC’s objective is to provide easier access to culturally appropriate mental health assistance for individuals and families within the Black community, and to enhance their overall well being. Its mandate is to dismantle barriers which include the cost of mental health support, limited access to culturally sensitive care for Black individuals, a lack of comprehensive statistics and research to accurately depict the state of Black Canadians, and a pervasive mistrust of systems designed to support those in need. BMHC strives to establish a safe, inclusive environment where individuals from diverse Black backgrounds can seek and receive support for their mental health needs.

Mental Health Disparities in Black Canadian Communities

The Mental Health Commission of Canada highlighted alarming findings from the 2020 Statistics Canada Survey on mental health disparities during COVID-19. Among the key statistics:

  • 27.9% of Black visible-minority respondents reported fair/poor self-rated mental health, exceeding the rate among White respondents at 22.9%;
  • 32% of Black visible-minority respondents experienced symptoms consistent with moderate/severe generalized anxiety disorder, compared to 24.2% of their White counterparts;
  • 37.5% of Black visible-minority respondents reported COVID-19-related financial insecurity, surpassing the rate among White respondents at 22.1%.

BMHC Programs to Close Existing Gaps

Recognizing that contributors to psychological and emotional stress differ among communities, BMHC has strategically designed programs to address distinct needs and close existing gaps. The gala event on December 9 calls for immediate attention, volunteers, mentors and financial support for these initiatives:

  1. LIFEMAP (Life Integration for Empowering Males After Probation/Parole) supports young offenders step-by-step after release. It helps youth set goals and provides coaching and support to help them navigate the challenges they face during reintegration;
  2. HEROES (Health Education and Resources for Overcoming Emotional and Mental Health Struggles) addresses the urgent necessity for emotional and mental health education in schools, especially in under-served communities;
  3. Yes to Assess provides assessments to children in need who lack the means to access traditional assessment channels;
  4. BREATHE (Black Response and Empathy Alternative to Harmful Enforcement) operates as a dedicated helpline for community incidents involving mental health crises, eliminating the need to involve the police. Instead, trained Black mental health professionals promptly respond to de-escalate situations effectively; and
  5. Self Care through Hair is a unique program that leverages barbers as the first line of support, identifying vulnerable individuals and initiating referrals for consultation and further assistance.

In 2023 alone, BMHC has conducted training sessions for over 1,000 healthcare professionals across Canada; developed customized training programs for public servants; provided free, life-changing public counseling groups for men and women throughout the country; disseminated educational and accurate information on mental health through social media; and established partnerships with agencies and organizations to support the Black community.

BMHC also makes it easy for Canadians to find mental health practitioners that support Black families: https://blackmentalhealth.ca/practitioner/

“Since the onset of COVID-19, there has been a notable shift among Black Canadians towards being more open to the idea of seeking mental health support. Additionally, there is a growing number of graduates from mental health academic programs, contributing to an expanded pool of potential providers for tailored programming,” said Alice Wiafe, President of BMHC. “At BMHC, we aim to leverage these trends to offer assistance to those in need of mental health support.”

Collective Efforts Needed to Make Progress

The theme of the December 9 event is Ubuntu, which reflects the essential approach required to genuinely challenge the status quo and disrupt conventional practices concerning mental health and its treatment. Ubuntu, which means “I am because we are,” underscores the understanding that no singular entity can shoulder the responsibility of addressing mental health alone. It requires a unified effort to dismantle existing bottlenecks.

To emphasize the importance of unity, Wiafe added, “We cannot be fragmented in this space. We must collectively agree on effective approaches for dealing with the mental health struggles of Black Canadians. We must know what works for us and be unapologetic about it. At BMHC, we strive to ensure that mental health services are accessible, culturally competent and reflective of the true experiences of Black Canadians.”

The gala event will serve as a platform to share success stories and narratives that ended tragically due to systemic and community failures. Some of the featured speakers include:

  • Author Lynn Cane, sharing the poignant story of her journey through the loss of her son to suicide;
  • Speaker and Advocate Stacey Buchanan, reflecting on her personal experiences with mental health;
  • Strategist and policy analyst Ngozi Iroanyah, providing insightful commentary on mental health issues affecting Black seniors;
  • Social Worker Duane Wiafe, sharing his experiences in corrections and emphasizing the impact of implementing culturally sensitive programming;
  • Filmmaker Moses Kigana, discussing his personal journey with mental health and the significance of promoting mental health;
  • Poet Roen Higgins, empowering individuals through art and spoken word;
  • Lawyer and Founder of The Sentencing Project Emily Lam, exploring the intersection of mental health and the law;
  • Executive director at Black Physicians’ Association of Ontario (BPAO) and former manager of Black Youth Success Chenai Kadungure, highlighting the importance of strategic programming for youth.

BPAO’s Kadungure said, “We believe in racial concordance in the Black community, meaning you should be able to get care from people who understand your experience, who look like you and who speak like you as there is so much interpretative and emotional labour that comes with communicating with healthcare providers.”

In addition to attending the gala event, BMHC encourages every agency, professional, leader and influencer capable of contributing not only to do so financially but also to be part of the solution through offering their time, resources, mentorship, leadership and guidance. The gala aims to highlight the collective power of the community, emphasizing the belief that each individual’s contribution, regardless of size, plays a pivotal role.

This event will take place at the Holiday Inn Toronto International Airport (970 Dixon Road, Toronto) on December 9 at 6 p.m. While it is primarily an invitation-only event, some seating will be designated for the general public who would like to participate in the discussion. For more information, visit https://blackmentalhealth.ca/gala23/.

For more information on volunteering or working with BMHC, contact us at info@blackmentalheath.ca.

About Black Mental Health Canada
Black Mental Health Canada (BMHC) is a volunteer, non-profit, community-based organization founded in 2019 to help meet the mental health needs of the diverse Black communities in Canada https://blackmentalhealth.ca/.

* Media: images are available here.

For more information, please contact:
Anita Wong/Cindy Watson
anita@stratamp.com / cindy@stratamp.com

BMHC
Author: BMHC

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