For me this week marks two very important events, and the intersections of those topics in our society. These include #BellLetsTalk Day and the beginning of Black History Month. Now you may not see where I am going with this, but then again, that is exactly the problem. As many of you may already know #BellLetsTalk is a movement where people from all over Canada discuss mental health on different platforms to promote awareness of mental health issues. The positive effects of this day are amazing not only for the fundraising aspect but especially for raising awareness and breaking the stigma against mental health in the community.
However, the Black Canadian community in particular still faces many additional barriers in overcoming this stigma. In looking at those discussing and participating in #BellLetsTalk day it is still very much misconstrued that mental health is “only an issue for white people”. This is of course not at all correct. 1 in 5 Canadians lives with mental illness. This statistic is applicable to all Canadians black, white, Hispanic, Asian and so forth. Basically it is applicable to all humans. For that reason it is about time that we stop removing ourselves from situations that we are all very much affected by, and acknowledge that this is our fight as well.
Speaking from my own experiences as a first generation Canadian from a Jamaican family, I can tell you that the way that Caribbean people regard mental health issues is very different from how other communities may view them. More or less they are disregarded altogether, or if they are acknowledged, they are referred to by other terms. Having seen those I love suffering in silence and succumbing to shame and isolation, I can confidently say that mental health issues are a very real occurrence amongst black people in Canada. Although I am only one person stating this fact, I also know that there are many other black Canadians that can vouch for this as well. The problem is however that no one is willing to admit it.
This is problematic for many reasons, especially when thinking of the reasons why we have a Black History Month to begin with. This month serves as a means of honoring the efforts which those before us had to put forth in order to be acknowledged as equals in humanity, not in spite of the fact that they were black but simply because they were human. The fact that many black Canadians have turned their backs on their loved ones for fear of stigma deprecates these efforts because it dehumanizes the person suffering. Ignoring those who have shown you that they are in need of mental health support by choosing to shun them is essentially choosing fear over courage, which our ancestors did not.
Often families and friends do not want to associate with someone whom their community might label as “possessed” or “crazy” so they think that if they just remain silent about the problem it will go away. It is this silence however that is further leading to the demise of those suffering. This is especially true within the Caribbean community as generations of belief in the powers of the evil eye has led many people to believe that mental health issues are the outcome of such circumstances, and if you only pray and be positive you will get through it. The influence of prayer is powerful it is true, but if we are going to be honest here mental illness is an obstacle of many facets that we each cannot face alone.
As black Canadians we need to begin to get involved in discussions about mental health, not only for ourselves but for our families and the generations to come.
About Deshawna Dookie
Deshawna Dookie is an undergraduate psych student and a mental health advocate. Originally from the Toronto area, she has had her own experiences with mental health as well as being a supportive friend and supporter of others with similar experiences. She also has a personal interest in topics pertaining to the intersection of race and mental health. Throughout her own trials with mental health she discovered a number of holistic methods to dealing with mental health issues and is working towards sharing these ideas on her own website and blog. Until then you can follow her on Twitter and here on HMC's Supportive Minds Blog.