Updated: Jul 11
With each passing year we realize that there is increasing awareness regarding mental health. There has been a significant push to de-stigmatize mental illness, and this has had great benefit including increased resources for mental health services, and improving access to these services.
However, for minoritized communities, the impact of the shift has been disproportionate when one takes into account intergenerational trauma and systemic barriers to mental health. For people of African descent, access to therapy goes beyond scheduling and affordability. Much of it goes to the legacy of oppressive and exploitative systems of colonialism and slavery, which has shaped generations of identity and sense of self-worth.
Taught to repress pain
For the Black community, the general view is that one should not talk about one's problems; keep it within the home/community. During slavery complaints about suffering were met with punishment, and seeking and accessing help was a luxury. Pain was normalized, and endurance was seen as a sign of strength. Today, coping systems are made up family, close friends, "aunties" and "uncles" who empathize and share the burden of pain. Seeking help outside of this network is often frowned upon and stigmatized due oppressive history of bureacratic systems.
The Stigma of Mental Illness
There already is a negative stigma associated with being diagnosed with a mental illness. However, it is practically taboo to discuss this in some cultures. An identity associated with having a mental illness can, in some cases, cause a person to be castigated by their community, and shunned by family and friends. Compounded by limited resources to get treatment, many people who struggle with mental health suffer in silence and/or become isolated while their condition declines.
The intersectionality of identities
The experience of oppression isn't limited to race for members of the Black community. For many, the experience of systemic barriers is further compounded by one's gender, nationality, faith, sexual identity, etc. Navigating the world while facing multiple oppressive experiences - experiences that can easily make a person feel invisible or unworthy - can be that much more complicated when trying to manage one's own mental health. It becomes a question of what came first: "Is my mental health shaping my experience of oppression?" or "Is the constant exposure to and/or experience of oppression affecting my mental health?" It can easily be argued that it's both, and as a result, the need to access support is that much greater.
Accessing culturally relevant therapy
A major barrier to therapy for many in the Black community is being able to access culturally appropriate services. Therapy is a deeply subjective experience which is mediated not only by the therapist's skills and the client's goals, but the lived experience and lens through which they understand the world, and the client's problems. Therapists who work with the Black community have to be able to approach therapy from an anti-oppressive perspective, understanding the impact of intergenerational trauma caused by a history of colonialism and neo-colonialism. Some of the legacy of such trauma include family separation, internalized hate and shame, identity conflict, micro-aggressions, and emotional repression. It makes for highly effective therapy when therapist and client can speak the same language - literally and emotionally/contextually.
The good news is that there are increasing numbers of therapists who are not only members of Black community, but share intersecting identities with many in the population along the lines of faith, cultural ethnicity, sexual identity and orientation, nationality, etc. Navigating the ups and downs of your mental health doesn't have to be done in isolation. If you need support, speak to your doctor or reach out to a therapist who you feel would be a good fit for you.
If you would like to discuss this or other therapeutic needs, and would like to explore the possibility of starting therapy, feel free to contact me by calling 416-688-5274, or by booking a free initial consult at heartspringtherapy.ca/book-online.
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