How Black youth are reclaiming their mental health in Canada

For Ernithe Edmond and Fama Tounkara, two Montrealers in their twenties, talks around mental health would be met with incomprehension, even hostility.

“We grew up in a context where showing our ‘negative’ emotions was seen as weak and that sharing personal issues was a sign of vulnerability and weakness,” said Fama.

And they are not alone.

For some Black youth in Canada who shared their stories with, they say their experience with seeking mental health support has been an uphill battle.

Though Canada is one of the most ethnically diverse countries with Black people representing the third-largest population of racialized people, historically, the Black community was placed at a disadvantage when it comes to their mental health.

Research shows that Black youth experience barriers at multiple levels when seeking care, from systemic barriers to personal and community-based barriers. The pandemic, which is gearing up for its third year, has only exacerbated the issue,just how extreme the mental health crisis is affecting Black youth.

According to a 2020 Statistics Canada survey, 27.9% of Black visible-minority respondents reported fair/poor self-rated mental health as a result of the pandemic.

Black youth, like Ernithe and Fama, are taking matters into their own hands by coming together to create grassroots services that provide alternative mental health support to their community.

My Mental Health Matters came to life as a result of a 2 a.m. text and grew into a non-profit organization that promotes awareness about mental health among minority groups through educational resources, by providing safe spaces for candid conversations, and through a list of qualified health professionals.

“Throughout our organization we do wish to bring a more positive image about mental health and help people understand that taking care of our emotions and being vulnerable, in a certain way, is not an act of weakness but an act of strength,” said Ernithe.

Amongst the barriers faced by Black youth, much of it is location and practitioner-related. Sixty per cent of Black Canadians reported they would be more willing to speak to a mental health professional if they were Black. Sharing common ground facilitates the ability to build trust and establish a connection.

Micheline Khan, the CEO and founder of Althea Therapy, in response to the rising inequities in mental health caused by the pandemic, decided to fill this gap by “creating[and] leveraging technology to destigmatize therapy and improve the mental health of under-represented communities across Canada.”

Althea app, mental healthBy decentralizing the search for a racialized mental health professional, Khan has reduced one of the barriers to access to mental health for racialized youth.

“The Althea App provides a safe space for Black, Indigenous, and racialized communities to search for and connect with culturally responsive mental health and wellness professionals in their area [across Canada],” said Khan.

“The platform is a resource hub for anyone seeking information, education, and engagement on topics related to mental health and wellness and it has culturally responsive mental health professionals with a shared vernacular, heritage, race, gender, and age to choose from.”

No matter the barrier, young Black people are coming together to provide support in whatever capacity. The Black Healing Fund was started by six volunteers who decided financial means should not be the reason low income Black folk can’t access mental health services.

After many strategizing meetings, the founders of the Black Healing Fund launched their website and Instagram page. Though it felt like “growing a flower out of concrete,” for co-founder, Martha Nduwayo, she was surprised there was no similar organization already in existence.

“There’s a problem in society that is greater than me and I’m doing my best to do [my part],” says co-founder Kat Charles.

Black Healing Fund

From left: Kat Charles and Martha Nduwayo, co-founders of the Black Healing Fund (supplied, composite photo)

The Black Healing Fund seeks to provide people in the Montreal area with funding for therapy and “other mental health focused resources” through crowd-funding. To date, the organization raised $113,000 and distributed $105,000 for low income Black youth.

Black youth are saying enough is enough and taking a hold of their own mental health and well-being. From directories, to apps, to healing funds…young Black Canadians are changing their communities from the inside out.

Josephine Fomé is currently in a fellowship program with CTV News

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