By Michael Van Cooten
TORONTO, Ontario (Monday, October 19, 2020) — The mental health diagnosis of Black-Canadians appears daunting.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) has reported that members of the Black community may experience racism, discrimination, violence and poverty at higher levels than people of other races — and these phenomena can intensify mental illness.
The Ottawa-based MHCC, which specializes in mental health first aid delivery, related that despite the resilience of Black-Canadians, there have been increasing suggestions that anti-Black racism is taking its toll on the community’s mental health.
It pointed out that, African and Caribbean Canadians were more exposed to factors that are linked to poorer mental health for everyone, such as poorer education and housing, unemployment, poverty and criminalization.
The MHCC added that not every facet of being Black can be articulated; not every facet of a racist incident can be explained and, therefore creating a comfortable and safe environment for Black Canadians to seek treatment is vital to helping them heal from their mental illness, and this makes it important to have a culturally-competent Black therapist.
Driven, and inspired, by this challenging mental health scenario for Black-Canadians, who tend towards reticence in seeking treatment, Susan Bascillo and Yemi Otukoya — both registered social workers with Masters’ Degrees in their discipline, and over a quarter century of combined relevant experience — launched Black Mental Health Matters Canada Inc. (BMHM), last month.
“BMHM was born out of community recognition that every Black person deserves to feel comfortable, seen and heard — especially those who suffer silently, without access to the right kind of help,” explained Otukoya.
“That’s why we’ve raised hundreds of thousands in donations. But our work can only exist because of passionate donors, whose commitment ensures Black therapists are fairly compensated for their work, and that income is not a barrier for anyone who needs treatment.”
The Toronto-based non-profit organisation’s mission is threefold: to
- “work to improve outcomes for Black Canadians experiencing trauma from institutionalized violence, systemic racism and police brutality;
- “equip Black clients, organizations and broader communities with the tools to identify the consequences of systemic racism and promote safer and more compassionate spaces; and
- “address a range of social barriers (e.g. education-level, under-employment, housing insecurity etc.) which may lead to poorer mental health outcomes and negatively impact one’s well-being.”
Both of BMHM’s co-founders’ credentials are highly impressive — and vast — which augurs well for the eventual success of their fledgling organisation.
Both are members of the College of Social Workers and Social Services Workers and the Canadian Association of Social Workers.
Additionally, Bascillio is a Registered Psychotherapist with the College of Psychotherapy of Ontario; and a member of the College of Registered Psychotherapy of Ontario.
Spurred on by the public outcry against anti-Black racism, BMHM is actively, and assiduously, working towards ending the stigma surrounding seeking mental health treatment in Black communities across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
The first of its kind in the GTA, BMHM is now accepting clients for low-to-no-cost, culturally-sensitive therapy that confronts various mental health ailments, including anger, grief, anxiety and race-based trauma.
Through workshops, Bascillo and Otukoya are also providing mental health education to community organizations that are willing to have deeper conversations, tough introspection, and gain a better grasp of how to interact with, and help, those facing mental illness.
These workshops address a range of social barriers, like education-level, under-employment and housing insecurity, which may lead to poorer mental health outcomes and negatively impact a person’s well-being.
The BMHM co-founders believe that acquiring this understanding is the first step to changing some of these systemic issues that impact Black Canadians’ self esteem and holistic well-being.
“We know that many Black Canadians are not seeking treatment, either because they are afraid of judgement, they can’t find a Black therapist who they can openly talk about their race-salient experiences with, or they simply can’t afford it,” commented Bascillio.
“We wanted to address that head on, and equip clients, organizations, and broader communities with the tools to identify the consequences of systemic racism and promote safer and more compassionate spaces.”
For more information on BMHM, visit the organisation’s website at: www.blackmentalhealthmatters.ca.