On the occasion of Black History Month, Mindfulicity expert and YW Calgary Director, Special Projects, Lana Bentley shares her experience as a Black woman practicing mental health in An Open Letter on Mindfulicity’s blog.

I got my first job as a therapist in a mental health clinic in 2006.  Things were different then. At the time, I was the only Black person in my department.  As a young, Black, woman in a predominantly White department serving predominantly White patients, I stood out.

Unfortunately for some families, it was tough for them to look past my colour.

To say it was difficult would be an understatement.  At that time, we didn’t have the diverse lexicon of terms to describe discriminatory and biased behaviour like we do now. It was just what you had to go through if you wanted the job.

When I started working in mental health, I hadn’t really considered mental health specific to Black Canadians. That’s probably because it never really came up.

I didn’t see many Black patients.

We didn’t learn about it in school. I now know why that might have been the case.

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada (2021), the results of a 2018 survey of Black Canadians revealed the following:

  • More than a third of respondents identified as experiencing significant psychological distress.
  • 60% of respondents said they would be more willing to engage mental health system of there were more Black professionals.
  • 1% of respondents believed the underutilization of mental health services needs to be addressed.

The figures above are a snap shot and ultimately, understanding this issue from nuanced perspective goes well beyond a Blog post.  I would be remise to not highlight that the racism endured by the Black community both historically and present day is of course tied to health outcomes. As the march towards racial equity persists, I will focus my comments today and talk to service providers.

Representation matters and it is especially important for Black clients and patients to see themselves reflected in mental health agencies in a variety of roles including frontline service providers and leadership positions.  We simply do not have enough Black professionals working in psychiatric nursing, clinical social work, psychology, and psychiatry.  Though things are improving slowly, the figures above remind us of the need for sustained action at the organizational and institutional level.

To my fellow Black mental health professionals, I have no doubt that you are where you are today because of your hard work and perseverance. And chances are you have also benefited from the tireless efforts of Black folks who came before you, making it possible for you to hold the position you do now. Please make this possible for others who have not yet arrived.

Be a mentor, take the time to develop the next generation of Black professionals.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and happy Black History Month.

Why is the topic of mental health & resilience significant this month?

Black History Month comes with an opportunity to recognize the achievements and contributions of Black Canadians, and it also invites us to identify where work still needs to be done. While experiences may vary, mental health in Black Canadian communities continues to be a challenge compared to White Canadians. Barriers for Black Canadians keep them from receiving the help they need.

Some of the mental health challenges facing Black communities:

  • Barriers to care
  • Lack of representation
  • Myths and misconceptions within black communities
  • Lack of mental health literacy

Resources for Black Communities:

Black Therapists Directory Canada; Find a Black Therapist (blacktherapistlist.com)

Counselling (africacentre.ca)

Black Youth Helpline

Services – Black Mental Health Canada