Anti-Black racism is prevalent in our society and has negative impacts on the health of Black Torontonians. There has been increasing research that anti-Black racism takes a toll on mental health, despite the resilience of Black Torontonians. On top of that, Black Torontonians cannot easily access culturally appropriate mental health supports and services. The City of Toronto & TAIBU Community Health Centre have partnered to help highlight the impact of anti-Black racism on mental health in our city. Addressing barriers means raising awareness, having tough conversations and working together to build strong communities and allyships committed to lasting change.
As a first step, the City officially declared Monday, March 2, 2020, as Toronto’s first Black Mental Health Day. In 2021, the week was expanded to a week to provide greater opportunity to facilitate and cultivate greater awareness of the impacts of anti-Black racism on Black communities, families and individuals. Visit the Black Mental Health Week web page for more information.
Black Mental Health Day is a day to raise awareness about the harms of anti-Black racism on mental health in Toronto’s Black communities, and the need to action systemic change.
On the day, focused and community-held events will help start discussion and engagement with the issues.
Studies show witnessing or being the target of anti-Black racism throughout our lifespan can have adverse affects on our mental health and physical wellbeing.
It’s not only overt racism that harms Black people’s mental and physical wellbeing. Anti-Black racism takes many forms. Black Torontonians frequently experience undue mistrust and scrutiny as a part of daily life, in workplaces, schools, public spaces, or during interactions with public institutions. Common experiences are microaggressions, difficulty in accessing appropriate care and support, and even disbelief from care providers when expressing distress or trauma.
For many Black people, these pressures result in feeling the need to practise extra vigilance to ensure their own safety, which puts extraordinary demands on their capacity for resilience.
These experiences can lead to or add to existing mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. For Black communities, these and other mental illnesses are often overlooked and have increased rates of misdiagnosis, under-treatment, and failure to diagnose. Mental health issues can also exacerbate the risk and harm of other illnesses, for which Black communities already face increased risk, like hypertension, stroke, and heart disease.
Addressing the barriers and burdens of anti-Black racism on mental health begins with:
Neglecting these issues also hinders Black communities’ opportunities to actively participate in building a Toronto that better serves them, including the need to rally and advocate for systemic change.
Combating anti-Black racism and its impact on mental health in our community means working together. Black communities cannot address this systemic issue by themselves. Allies, who have access to audiences and opportunities, can play a significant role in the work of anti-Black racism and mental health. Whereas ‘advocacy’ is about standing up for people who cannot stand up for themselves, ‘allyship’ is to make room and space for people to stand up for themselves. Both are needed but allyship provides a lasting and meaningful solution.
If you are ready to develop a better understanding of the barriers and want to advance equity and social justice the Black Mental Health Day is a good opportunity to start your journey with. Learn more about how you can become an ally at work and in your personal life.