Last year, with the proclamation of Bill 178, the Black Mental Health Day Act (2020) helped set the stage for all to learn and understand more about the impact of systemic racism. We need to work together to enact meaningful systemic change that will better support Black children and youth and address the historical impact of bias, discrimination and trauma on their mental health and well-being.
Anti-Black racism pervades all aspects of society. There is no “neutral” stance in the face of injustice; we must move forward in our understanding of anti-oppression and anti-racism and reflect on our responsibility to dismantle racism and support the mental health and well-being of all our Black students.
March 1, 2021 is the second annual Black Mental Health Day in Ontario. Black Mental Health Day is a day to raise awareness and draw attention to the impact that anti-Black racism continues to have on the mental health of Black people, and the need to enact systemic change.
Why talk about anti-Black racism?
Having discussions with children and youth about anti-Black racism lets them know that we, as adults, are aware of the social context, and are not afraid to discuss and confront difficult topics like anti-Black racism. Providing Black children and youth with supportive spaces and opportunities to express their feelings and talk openly about their lived experiences with systemic barriers at school and in the community demonstrates a commitment to addressing anti-Black racism and can begin a healing process with Black children and youth. Acknowledging that anti-Black racism exists, and that it has an impact on the health and well-being of Black-Canadians, can help to counteract the impacts of anti-Black racism.
Research has shown on countless occasions that experiencing or internalizing racism can have a significant impact on one’s mental health. Some of these effects include:
- Increased risk of depression or suicide
- Increased levels of anxiety and stress related illnesses (i.e. high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, nervous system problems, other physical ailments) — When people experience stressful situations like discrimination, their body moves into a state of fight or flight, which in the past was key to our survival. Today however, when the fight or flight system is frequently engaged, it causes inflammation that could lead to chronic health problems in the long run.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Substance Abuse Problems
- Intergenerational Racism/Trauma — Can be experienced by children who observe racism or racist behaviours and affect school performance and developmental milestones — especially if these acts are towards their parents or caregivers. Symptoms include fear, hypervigilance, confusion, shame or guilt, self-blame and headaches.
- Internalized beliefs – Conscious or unconscious acceptance of common racial tropes that can lead to low self-esteem and increased symptoms of psychological distress.
- Racial Battle Fatigue – Resulting from a daily struggle with racism or racist-based behaviours, causing a person to constantly be on guard to protect against the hostile environment.
- Feelings of helplessness or worthlessness
- Avoidance behaviours — Avoiding situations and places that could lead to an increase in mental health symptoms as a result of racism, even if they would be meaningful, valuable or positive for the individual such as employment, education or healthcare facilities.
Resources and additional information provided by our York Catholic Mental Health Team
Importance of Self Care
According to the Oxford Dictionary, self care is the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health; taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress. Self- care is not about being selfish or self-indulgent. It is about self-preservation, self-awareness, maintaining sanity and energy and changing our focus away from anxious and stressful thoughts.
Here are some ways to build self-care into your daily routine:
Self Care Apps
Liberate – www.liberatemeditation.com
A meditation app for the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color community. Listen to dozens of guided meditations to ease anxiety, find gratitude, heal internalized racism and microaggressions and celebrate Blackness.
Elevate: Mental Health Inspirational Self-Care www.Getelevateapp.com
An inspirational living and self-care mobile application that serves as a personal guide to mental, physical, and emotional success and wellness for the Black community.
Additional resources to support mental health
- Newmarket African Canadian Caribbean Communities – http://www.naccacommunity.ca
- York Region Alliance of African Canadian Communities – http://www.Yorkregionaacc.org
- CAMH – Substance Abuse Program for African Canadian and Caribbean Youth (SAPACCY) – 416 535-8501, press 2 or https://www.camh.ca/en/your-care/programs-and-services/substance-use-program-for-african-canadian-caribbean-youth
- TAIBU Community Health Centre – (416) 644-3536 or https://taibuchc.ca/en/
- Toronto For All: Offers Anti-Black Racism & mental health resources – https://www.toronto.ca/community-people/get-involved/community/toronto-for-all/
- Caribbean African Canadian Social Services (CAFCAN) – 416-740-1056
- Centre francophone du Grand Toronto Mental Health Crisis Line – 647-881-6761 or 647-268-2016
- Black Health Alliance (647) 367-6656
- Black Youth Helpline