The issue of mental health is not only taboo among Blacks, but also well hidden, as many of us regard mental illness as a “White person’s disease.”
The World Health Organization stated that around 450 million people currently suffer from the conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill health and disability worldwide. www.who.int/whr/2001/media_centre/press_release/en/.
Prevalent within our communities are misconceptions and misconstructions around what mental illness means, and in addition anxiety, depression and other disorders.
The degradation and humiliation surrounding mental illness is certainly cumbersome, as Black folks hold the belief that seeking professional help is a sign of weakness.
Not to be disregarded is the fact that culture biases against mental health professionals and health care professionals in general, hinder many Blacks from accessing care, based on prior experiences with misdiagnoses.
The topic of mental illness is never raised among friends or family, and some family members may even tease or taunt the member dealing with the illness. As a consequence the majority of individuals in the Black community have chosen to suffer in silence, rather than disclose to anyone what they are dealing with, or trying their best to cope with.
A lot of our prevalent thoughts and beliefs about mental illness are outdated and incorrect, and we are not willing to amend or change our ideologies and assumptions when presented with new information.
Yes, Blacks have a lot of negative feelings about, or are not even aware of, existing mental health services.
They have also hung fixedly to the belief that they should be strong enough to overcome mental illness in the same manner, as their ancestors were strong enough to overcome slavery and other accompanying atrocities.
Some believe that we should be able to just pray it away, while others believe that we should be able to seek only our pastors. While spirituality and faith should always play a role in treatment, I am a firm believer that God wants us to practice our free will and seek help for ourselves.
We must understand that faith is not just an abstract principle; faith is not only believing but also putting that belief into practice.
So often we are privy to the stereotypical assertions that “Black people do not commit suicide,” or “Black folks don’t suffer from depression,” when in reality and stark actuality these do exist.
Viewed from an historical perspective, it is seemingly apparent that Blacks have normalized their own sufferings.
During slavery, mental illness usually emanated in a more brutal manner, including frequent beatings and abuse, which forced many slaves to hide their issues. As time went by strength became equated with survival, and weakness – including mental illness – meant dubitable or questionable survival. Sadly, that stigma still exists today.
Blacks experience the same mental health issues as the remainder of the population, with arguably even greater stressors, due to racism, prejudice and economic disparities. It is not dependent upon race or gender, and is of extreme importance for any and everyone, regardless of race.
Now the government of Canada is poised, and within range, to bring about a cultural change.
“Black Canadian communities face unique challenges when it comes to maintaining positive mental health and accessing appropriate supports.
The funding announced today is one way the Government of Canada is helping Canadians, no matter where they live or who they are, to have access to quality mental health supports and resources that meet their needs.”
The Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor
Minister of Health https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/English/news-article/13672/federal-budget-2019-invests-mental-health-suicide-prevention
I was invited to be part of one of several discussions — the initial steps in the planning phase — surrounding commitments made in the 2018 Government of Canada Budget, on the health and well being of Black Canadians. The Budget proposed the investment of $19 million — $10 million administered by the Public Health Agency of Canada, and $9 million administered by Canadian Heritage — over a 5-year period, aimed at enhancing local community supports, for youth at risk, and to develop research in support of more culturally-focused mental health programs in Black Canadian communities. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/news/2019/06/government-of-canada-announces-funding-to-support-the-mental-health-of-black-canadians.html
To be healthy, as a whole, mental illness plays a role. Mental health and mental illness are not synonymous, although they are used interchangeably. To clarify this statement, everyone has mental health; everyone does not have a mental illness or disorder. Stigma gains power the longer we remain silent.
Reflections
Most of us understand the consequences of untreated mental illness in our community, but I am unsure as to whether we fully understand the consequences of the continued mindset we have developed. It appears as if we have lowered our standards for what we think is acceptable.
Our culture should represent the best of us — our history, our accomplishments, and everything that makes us proud to be Black. However, we act blind to the issues that threaten to overwhelm us, and jeopardize our being as a people, whereas we should be held accountable for the things we create and the impact these things have on our communities.
Frankly speaking, the things we put out there for the world to see, shapes the way the world sees us, especially in the media, where Blacks are never pardoned by mental illness or any other circumstance beyond our control. So, we cannot then be upset when the world only sees us in a negative light.
To the Black community, we need to pay attention, for we are now faced with no recourse, but to simply start the discourse.
So let us from the shadows flee, and seek help for our mentally ill so all can see.
Now that the Canadian government has shown its interest, let us, in turn, do our very best.
Mental health determines a community’s wealth. Silence is no longer golden but simply olden.

Aleuta— The struggle continues.