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HEALTHY REASONING: Mental Illness And Black Youths

HEALTHY REASONING: Mental Illness And Black Youths

By Allan Jones
Pride Health Columnist

“Mental health services are developed to cater for the dominant cultural group. Ethnic minorities do not receive equitable care.” This was a statement made by Dr. Kwame McKenzie in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, November 2008.

This African Canadian doctor knows the area of mental health in Canada. Dr. McKenzie works at the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). He is a Psychiatrist, Researcher and Policy Advisor at the centre, and also a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. He also sits on the Service System Advisory Committee of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Dr. McKenzie’s sentiments were echoed by Dr. P. Pahwa PhD, who stated in Chronic Diseases and Injuries in Canada back in June 2012, that “There is a need to develop ethnic-specific mental health programs, targeting those with low education attainment and low social involvement”.

I wrote earlier in this column that ethnic minorities do not receive equitable care. I stated that we need to develop ethnic-specific mental health programs.

There is good news. Recently I interacted with individuals from CAMH who talked extensively about their Substance Abuse Program for African Canadian and Caribbean Youth (SAPACCY). This is an example of ethno-specific focus for mental health, and it is an initiative worthy of community support.

The staff at SAPACCY are reflective of the diversity within the Black Community, and are able to work with Black youth between 13 to 24 with substance abuse behaviours (mostly marijuana use), and psychiatric disorders. While dealing with the disorder, they are able to interweave the cultural nuances, indicating to the young person, that they are able to travel the necessary course of recovery with them. You can reach SAPACCY at 416.535.8501 extension 36767.

The importance of SAPACCY is highlighted by the fact that many young people with mental health issues are locked away in jails. Recent race data obtained under the freedom of information, painted a disturbing picture of Black and Aboriginal overrepresentation in Ontario youth and adult jails. For Black youth the proportion of jail admissions is four times higher than what they represent in the general young male population. We can assume that a significant number of those in jail have some mental health issue.

Last week in Toronto, the beginnings of a national framework to train police how to best deal with the mentally ill emerged from Canada’s first collaborative dialogue on the issue. The conference, hosted by the Mental Health Commission of Canada and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, came at a time when statistics suggest 20% of Canadians experience a mental illness in any given year. This is a good move, as it may eventually diffuse some of the tension between law enforcers and our Black youth.

The primary factors that shape the health of our youths are not medical treatments or lifestyle choices but rather their living conditions, known as the Social Determinants of Health. It is documented that social conditions, such as housing, social status, social support and income, influences well-being and health.

This year we are expecting elections in Toronto and Ontario. We should demand from our politicians, at all levels of government, that more attention be given to the growing mental health problem among our Black youth. Do not allow the public debate to be just focused on non-health issues, like subways. After all if you are ill, your major concern is the illness; and that illness can prevent you from benefitting from non-health programs or projects. Get busy, write or call your elected politician, and demand more attention to the serious mental health problem plaguing our community, especially our children.

If politicians cannot put Black youth mental health issues on their agenda, they do not deserve your support or vote.

Let your vote count…Support our young people!!!

Allan Jones is a Health Promoter and Broadcaster. He can be heard on “Allan Bucka Jones LIVE”, Sundays from 3 to 5pm on CHRY 105.5 FM, www.chry.fm , Rogers Digital Cable 945, Bell Fibe 973 or mobile app TuneIn Radio. You can contact Allan Jones at ajones@jjmedical.ca.

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