According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, mental illness is one of the main causes of disability in Canada. Mental health and addictions in Canada’s African, Caribbean, and Black population is profoundly misunderstood and stigmatized which can pose a barrier to raising awareness of its long-term impact on population and patient health outcomes. Social issues such as anti-Black racism, sexism, poor education and employment rates, inadequate housing, and poverty are major contributing factors to this phenomenon. Mental health and addictions can impact quality of life, lifespan, personal relationships, and chronic disease risk which can affect the person’s level of self-esteem and self-worth. Currently, one of the main challenges to capturing the full extent of the problem and identifying effective solutions is the lack of race-based data. In addition, the absence of culturally appropriate services and resources that specifically target Black communities within Canada results in many people struggling alone and in silence. The shortage of African, Caribbean, and Black practitioners and community workers who are versed in the unique needs and challenges within this population further compounds the problem.
Black Health Alliance is committed to reducing racial differences in mental health outcomes for the Canadian Black population by working with the community, decision-makers, and civic allies who are on the same mission. We have hosted Beyond a Sound Mind, a forum to encourage dialogue around mental health and addictions. In order to build upon previous work we need to enhance our understanding of what historical factors have contributed to this crisis, the impacts on our overall health and well-being, and what challenges we confront in addressing the issue. As part of our long-term strategy, we will collect race-based data that will enable us to gain these critical insights. This prepares us to inform decision makers of our distinct needs and advocate for targeted mental health and addictions resources, programs, and services. Resources should be funneled into awareness-raising initiatives to encourage community members to have the difficult conversations and eliminate the stigma that is associated with reaching out for help. Moreover, it is important that in the process of community planning we consider the link between better mental health and addictions and the social determinants of health and disease. Furthermore, African, Caribbean, and Black communities can benefit from culturally appropriate programs that take into account factors that shape our perspectives on mental health such as place of origin, religion, culture, age, gender, education level, and social environment. There is still a great deal of work to be done, but we remain dedicated and hopeful for the future.
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