LET’S TALK – Not at the Margins: A Conversation about Mental Health

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Photo by: Herman Custodio

BY: ALYSSA MAHADEO

The way we act and the way we feel are like two sides of the same coin. Many people suffer in silence, unsure of how to seek the help they need, while friends and family aren’t able to spot the signs to prevent a potentially harmful situation from escalating.

For years the Caribbean community has disregarded their mental state, refusing to address the issues they face or the feelings they have for fear of being judged or classified as ‘mentally unstable.’ Statistics cannot account for the many people who are not being seen or heard as they mask their pain, but movements are happening every day in order to change this conversation.

On Friday, February 2nd, 2018 the United Way of Peel Region’s Black Advisory Council (BAC) explored the stigma and cultural responses to Mental Health in the Black Community. Community leaders, policymakers, residents and business leaders came together to launch Black History Month with a much needed and meaningful event: Not at the Margins: A Conversation about Mental Health.

15.3% of the racialized population in Peel are Black Individuals with a total of 131,060 Black people spread out over Caledon, Brampton, and Mississauga.

“The Region of Peel is one of the most diverse communities in Canada: more than 55% of Peel’s population is racialized and Blacks are the second largest racialized group in Peel,” said Len Carby, Chair of the Black Community Advisory Council. 

Despite the early hour, and the frigid temperatures, it was a full house at the breakfast and networking event hosted by emcee Allan Jones who kept the crowd lively and engaged as he introduced the morning’s speakers with special acknowledgements to the Mayors, and community MPs in attendance.

“When I read the report put out by the United Way using the most recent 2016 census data, I was shocked,” Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey addressed. “The findings were really very powerful and put us in a place where we have to understand how much of our community is struggling. It showed the gap between the rich and the poor and how much it’s grown and how dramatic the change is within this region.”

The United Way of Peel Region is focused on poverty reduction, and are collectively working together to reduce poverty, implement preventative measures and support people living in crisis right now. Living in poverty is one of the leading causes of mental well-being, living in the unknown, and being unsure of how you will be able to provide for yourself or your family.

In working to further the conversation, the audience was able to hear from three passionate experts in the field advocates for mental health and actively working in aid in efforts to break the stigma of mental health in the Black Community. These three black women serve as role models to the community and their stories and experiences spoke to the overwhelming need for more people to speak up.

“I started noticing certain things about myself, I starting walking fast, talking fast, eating quickly, brushing my teeth in a hurry, I couldn’t sleep and everything was always going too fast and I couldn’t understand it,” shared Keynote speaker and Mental Health Advocate Stacy-Ann Buchanan. “My roommate at the time said, ‘I think you’re showing the signs of anxiety,’ and went into my room and I sat down and thought to myself anxiety? White girls get that.”

Stacy-Ann’s experience speaks to only one of many that she would encounter and have to face head-on. Growing up with Jamaican parents they didn’t understand what she was going through, therefore how could anyone hope to help?

Heart racing, the voices in her head saying the world would be better off without her, Stacy-Ann has been fighting against Mental Health issues and urges the Black community to do the same. Through her documentary the Blind Stigma featuring other men and women of Black descent she demonstrates how bad it can get, how hopeless people can feel when they feel like there is no way out, and no one present to listen.

Following the keynote address, Stacy-Ann alongside Colleen Taffee of TAFFE Consulting, one-link, Trillium Health Partners and Dr. Hayley Hamilton, Scientist at the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research and Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, spoke together in a panel discussion led by moderator Sharon Douglas. Their conversation was both empowering and solutions-oriented. Each woman spoke to their own experience, as well as how issues could potentially be addressed moving forward to ensure that people are informed of the options they have and to ensure they know they are not alone.

In addition to the deep and meaningful conversations had that morning, three individuals from within the community were recognized and awarded for their work with the Best in Community awards. The Youth Leadership Award was presented to Jermaine Frazer for his work as a program manager at One Voice Team Youth Leadership Program.

The Leadership in Business Award was presented to Frederick Roberts, owner of community restaurant Freddy’s Kitchen in Mississauga. The award was accepted by Mississauga citizen of the year Linden King on Frederick’s behalf.

Finally, the Community Leadership Award was presented to Len Carby, Chair of the Black Community Advisory Council, for all of the work he has contributed as a member of the Black Community and the civic leadership through dedication to the success of the Black Community using innovative approaches to meeting community needs locally in Peel.

Since being established in 1967 United Way of Peel Region inspires people from all walks of like to come together to raise funds, volunteer and motivate policy and attitude changes that lead to the improvement of people’s quality of life in Brampton, Caledon, and Mississauga. United Way’s community investment focus is to help individuals and families move from a life of poverty to one full of possibilities.

The United Way of Peel supports three community advisory councils: the South Asian Advisory Council, the Chinese Advisory Council, and the Black Community Advisory Council formed to inform the development of strategies addressing key issues affecting Peel’s Black Community. Their members come from all walks of life including business, health, education, and social services.

Creating lasting change at local levels starts with speaking out for those who cannot speak. Together as a community, we can continue the conversation so that everyone shall be heard.

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