BY RALPH BRYANT
My name is Ralph Bryant, and I am excited to be joining the Toronto Caribbean family writing about black people and mental health. Thanks to the COVID-19 and uncertainty about the U.S. election, reflecting on our own well-being and self-care could not be happening at a more critical time. The most unfortunate reality is that for far too many of us, striving for mental wellness is becoming a commodity for the rich and middle class.
Living as a black person in North America is hazardous enough to our physical health. There are unique health issues that we are forced to confront like: diabetes, high blood pressure, sickle cell anemia, not to mention the impacts of systemic racism (e.g., over-incarceration, under-employment and education, economic instability). Is it any wonder why, according to conservative estimates, that black people are 20% more likely to suffer through a serious mental illness in their lifetime.
In addition, black folks are also much more likely to avoid seeking out mental health resources even in the case of a traumatic event. This leaves our community with a complex dilemma that must be addressed: how can we develop resources that help black families, while also removing the stigma associated with asking for help.
This leads to an unfortunate circumstance – mental health is only for rich, privileged people. This certainly should not be, nonetheless remains the case. Poor families, especially those run by single mothers, do not have time to heal their minds; they are too busy: healing their families, putting food on the table and keeping everyone alive. Then you add in a global pandemic that is forcing all of us inwards, literally and figuratively, where all of our demons lie. For many of us our friends, family and social networks are our only resource, and they are all dealing with their own households and are unequipped to objectively provide the help you need.
At the same time, there are discussions of mental health, but mostly in white spaces – and isolated are the unique needs of our communities. Social media is particularly awful at this; we are bombarded with images of (mostly white women) in fields of daffodils, at a yoga retreat in Costa Rica, describing how important it is to take time for “healing” and talking about how they “found” themselves.
Meanwhile, many of us are deciding which bill to pay, or which protest to join, or how to take care of our basic needs. So instead of finding a therapist, we numb ourselves with alcohol, binging Real Housewives, swiping on Tinder, and overuse and abuse drugs. We will do anything, everything to avoid dealing with our inner fears, but how many Netflix shows can you watch before at some point you have to look in the mirror and face the thing that is the scariest in the world; you!
We have to remove the financial obstacles from mental health. We have to reclassify struggles with the mind from a “want to have” (like dealing with trauma is equal to getting a breast job, liposuction, or removing a tattoo) to a “must have” because mental illness is a long-term burden of care, not dissimilar from suffering with cancer or diabetes. It should be covered by provincial insurance (or the Affordable Care Act in the U.S.). It should be considered a preventative service, in the same way that we can get our eyes checked or our blood drawn.
Resources should also be increased for children and youth. According to Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, access to counselling and therapy can take a long time – in Ontario, wait times of six months to one year are common.
If you are suffering in silence with your mental health struggles, you do not have to do so any longer. The good news is that non-profit organizations in our community are filling the breach. Black Mental Health Canada, Black Women In Motion and The Therapy Fund for the Black Community are three Canadian organizations that provide no or low cost treatment, amongst others, as well as advocacy and research efforts.