Mental Health in the Black Community
We have Debbie Opoku-Mulder sharing some of her expertise with us today! For more information or to get in touch with her please check out her website: www.insidementalhealth.ca
- In any given year, 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness.
- By age 40, about 50% of the population will have, or have had a mental illness
- Approximately 8% of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives
- Currently, more than 6.7 million people are living with a mental health condition in Canada.
- Once depression is recognized, help can make a difference for 80% of people who are affected, allowing them to get back to their regular activities.
Now, let’s talk about Black mental health –
- Black adults living below poverty are three times more likely to report severe psychological distress than those living above poverty
- Black adults are 20% more likely to experience mental health issue than the rest of the population
- People of Caribbean, East and West African origin of Ontario have 60% increased risk of psychosis
- 25% of black adults seek treatment for a mental health issue, compared to 40 % of white individuals.
Mental health is defined as “a state of well-being in which an individual recognizes one’s own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to the community” (WHO, 2004). Good mental health allows one to fulfil several key life functions and activities, including, fundamentally, the ability to enjoy life, while also dealing with its inherent challenges and problems.
As a Psychotherapist, I have seen how Black mental health issues affect an individual’s entire experience as a human being. When we are young, it can affect us in the areas of academics, social functioning, self-esteem, and behavioural problems. During teen years, it can affect these same areas but adds the tendency to self-medicate, engage in risky behaviour, and make bad choices that could lead to criminality, health problems, relational pitfalls, and more. As an adult, mental health issues have the capacity to render an individual dysfunctional in areas of work, relationships, and self-care.
What is happening?
Stigma and silence.
The beliefs on mental health in the black community creates a serious stigma that implies a mental health problem is a sign of weakness and should be kept hidden from others. A narrative that the black community has adopted says “we don’t talk about that stuff”.
These beliefs around mental illness are formed through experience, cultural traditions, and formal education. Stories from friends and family also play a role. For example, if family members talk about a “crazy” uncle who had to get hospitalized, younger generations may grow to believe that having a mental illness means you cannot function in society. Similarly, if someone who commits a crime is said to have a mental illness, it may perpetuate the belief that individuals with mental illness are violent.
But the truth is, mental health conditions do not discriminate based on race, colour, gender or identity, however, background and identity can make access to mental health treatment much more difficult.
A few weeks ago, I interviewed mental health advocate and producer Stacy-Ann Buchanan. She talked about recognizing the signs of anxiety in herself ten years ago but dismissing the diagnoses of anxiety because “that’s a white girl problem. I don’t have anxiety.” It turns out, it is not just a white girl problem.
Now, mid 2021, more Black people are talking about anxiety (and depression) because we are all collectively experiencing it.
To break down this stigma, it will likely involve many layers and require a two-pronged approach, education and changing the narrative surrounding mental illness. Education surrounding mental illness and normalizing mental health problems may help individuals recognize that treatment for a mental health problem does not have to be any more shameful than treatment for a physical health problem
Black mental health is important, and it must be addressed. Being Black impacts a person’s mental health in big ways. Significant historical patterns and systematic processes trickle down into our mental health.
But this doesn’t need to be our story anymore. We can make the changes for the improvement of Black mental health because Black Mental Health Matters.
Debbie is a Registered Psychotherapist, speaker, and mental health advocate. She owns and operates Inside Mental Health which offers Mental health training, seminars, speaking engagements, and HR/organizational consultation.
Sharing personal journeys and expertise, Debbie helps to break the stigma surrounding psychological health and addiction. She gives people the necessary tools they need to structure their life around their mental health, giving them the ability to live the life they imagined and recognize that they are not alone on this journey. Check her out at www.insidementalhealth.ca