As stated by The Center of Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), “Mental illness is a leading cause of disability in [Canada], preventing nearly 500,000 employed Canadians from attending work each day.” Embedded in Canada’s mental health crisis is also a large group of underrepresented individuals. This group of individuals is not only overlooked because they are a minority group, but because of their age – this group of individuals is our Black youth. Kids Help Phone suggests that “Black youth are 47% less likely to seek mental health support compared to white youth.” But why is that? The combination between the lack of and accessibility to resources, as well as stigma surrounding mental health in their community is something that we MUST investigate further. Additionally, it is essential to consider that “women experience depression at rates twice that of men, but black women are only half as likely to seek care as white women.” This is an even greater challenge to explore.
When figuring out how I wanted to approach this blog, I wanted to prioritize what the biggest factors were that held back Black identifying women from addressing mental health concerns. The relationship between Black females and acknowledging mental health with their family and friends is something that really piqued my interest. This dynamic may be a key contributor to the hesitancy of seeking professional treatment. As a blog writer who does not identify as a Black female, but wishes to shed light on this topic, I wanted to use the BoostHER platform to share a mental health experience from a Black female who attends Trent University. Our interviewee is a second-year student who has journeyed through depression, anxiety, and PTSD for over 5 years. For the purposes of this blog and to protect our interviewees privacy, I will not be disclosing her name.
Oftentimes, discussing mental health with important people in our lives is what triggers those first steps in recovery, and if Black females are not having this opportunity, then when does recovery begin and who does it begin with?
When asking our anonymous interviewee about what held her back from sharing her concerns, here’s what she had to say: “Some challenges stem from being the oldest daughter in a traditional immigrant house with a single mother posing great challenges in itself. A key factor is the struggles my mother had, and still endures, getting projected on me as the oldest daughter. The extreme rules, expectations (despite meeting all of them), don't ever seem to be enough unless you're sacrificing your mental health (and even *that* isn't enough). Since I have a single mother, any struggles I've endured/endure are seen as "nothing" compared to what she's gone through, thus making me appear to be healthy. Since my household is traditional in some ways, any male siblings automatically have a lot less to deal with in terms of tasks, expectations, or being the designated therapist. All these factors, combined with my internal battles, make it impossible for any of my family to understand what I'm feeling.”
As we read her response, we can take note on a few of the major factors from her personal experience:
1. The effects her family's “traditional” immigrant household on her mental health
2. Generational trauma, stemming from her mother’s experience of being a single mother
3. A disregard of her struggles by significant figures in her life
Despite the challenges she has faced, she recently had the chance to build up the courage to talk about her mental health with family. However, as many young Black women experience, she was met with shame for expressing her truth. Our interviewee stated that she was asked what was wrong with her, along with being called “lazy” for having depressive feelings and symptoms (another stigmatized concept many people still hold on to). After trying to prioritize her mental health by reducing her workload around the house and taking necessary breaks, she was called “selfish” by her family and was discouraged from taking mental health breaks. The lack of knowledge about mental health illnesses and the stigma surrounding the topic ultimately affected her family's ability to understand the weight of her depression, anxiety, and PTSD. This stigmatization may also be prevalent in other families within the community (and other minority groups alike), resulting in a roadblock through an individual's personal journey to seek help.
How does someone continue to try to reach out for help when the closest people to them are shaming them for their experience and even disregard the possibility of having a mental health illness as a whole?
There are still so many unanswered questions, and so much more we must learn regarding Canada’s Mental Health Crisis, but I would truly like to leave you with these words of courage and hope, from our anonymous interviewee when we asked her what is one thing you would say to another Black woman, or your past self, who is struggling with mental health?
“As hard as it is to go through life when you're already at a disadvantage, along with the daily struggles as a Black woman, it eventually gets better once you're able to do things for yourself and leave the situation you're in. It took many, many years to get where I am now, so patience isn't the only thing you'll need. Picture yourself being the best that you can be–shooting as high as you'd like because it is YOUR hopes and YOUR dreams.”
It is extremely necessary that we begin to shed light on Black females and their experience with mental health struggles. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please reach out to someone. The first step is always the hardest, but once you have taken that first step, your journey to recover, heal, and grow as a stronger version of yourself will only be an upward trend. We wanted to provide you with a safe place to start, so please visit the link provided here for a list of accessible resources to all youth and young adults in the GTA.
I would also like to send out a huge thank you to our interviewee for sharing her story with us. Not only are you reclaiming your power and educating those around you, but you are helping to encourage those struggling with similar challenges to speak up and seek help.
RESOURCES FOR MENTAL HEALTH: (Please copy and paste this link to your search bar)
Special thanks to Editors: Fizza Jafri and Malika Anoud
The Center of Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). The Crisis is Real. https://www.camh.ca/en/driving-change/the-crisis-is-real
Erica Richards, M. D. The state of mental health of Black Women: Clinical Considerations. Psychiatric Times.
Kids Help Phone (2021). Kids Help Phone data shows Black youth reaching out for mental health support around racism are among the most distressed service users. https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/kids-help-phone-data-shows-black-youth-reaching-out-for-mental-health-support-around-racism-are-among-the-most-distressed-service-users-882778575.html