To heal, you first need to understand. That’s one of the principles of a mental health "tool kit" aimed at teaching and inspiring Black Canadians created by several organizations serving Winnipeg’s Caribbean and African communities.
"Section one of the tool kit was key in terms of enhancing mental health literacy for the readers of the tool kit," said Tracy-Ann Campbell, a rehabilitation worker involved in the project.
That section of the 120-slide powerpoint tool kit is a glossary of terms used in mental health advocacy. Creating a framework of language makes it easier to take the first steps toward better health, said Campbell.
"It’s important for us to really understand key terms of references, for us to communicate along the same lines and to understand what is going on for us," she said.
"Within the Black community, there is a huge stigma around mental health and what that really means from a cultural perspective."
Campbell said this is all the more vital considering the diversity of the Black community in Winnipeg.
The tool kit formed with input from, amongst others, the Barbados Association of Winnipeg, Jamaican Association of Manitoba and the African Communities of Manitoba — organizations which include a plethora of cultures and mother tongues.
"In terms of mental health, we may understand it within our own cultural context, from a different perspective. So the language is basically to align us," said Campbell.
Campbell said a goal of the tool kit is to help people feel comfortable reaching out for help when they need it.
"Within certain communities, there are certain values and customs that are held deeply that may present a barrier to access to care," she said.
It’s also important for health care workers to understand these values and customs in order to better serve the community, which intensifies the need for the tool kit, she said.
Winnipeg psychologist Dr. Natasha Ali said there are many factors that can influence a Black Canadian’s mental health. For new Canadians, a refugee will face different challenges than a new immigrant, she said. Black Muslims may have a different outlook on their mental health than Black Christians.
"Every community does have its idiosyncrasies," she said. "But the commonality that I would say all folks face would be racism."
Racism can cause anxiety, stress and depression, she said. And it can discourage people from seeking the care they need.
Many Black Canadians who originate in other countries may have left their birthplaces due to traumatic situations, she said. That can trap people inside a harmful paradigm.
"That does affect people’s mental health because it really plays with this idea that the world is safe, because they get the message that it’s not," she said. Those traumas can then lead to addictions, which also exacerbate mental health issues.
Ali encouraged people to focus on building self-esteem, healthy relationships, satisfying careers and advocacy.
It’s also important that non-racialized people listen to the issues faced by Black Canadians and other racialized communities, and that they do so without becoming defensive, she said.
"Just really being able to put down one’s ego, one’s pride, and just being able to listen with an open heart without taking it personally," Ali said.
The tool kit covers a multitude of mental health factors, including microaggressions, gender inequality, sexual orientation, the justice system’s treatment of people of colour, housing and workplace policy.
Cody Sellar is the reporter/photographer for The Times. He is a lifelong Winnipegger. He is a journalist, writer, sleuth, sloth, reader of books and lover of terse biographies.