March 1: Black Mental Health Day

Feb 23, 2021

Black Mental Health Day graphicImage credit - Monday, March 1 is Black Mental Health Day, as declared by the City of Toronto and several other cities in Ontario. Black Mental Health Day is a reminder that we must destigmatize mental health challenges and provide culturally appropriate mental health services.  

In Ontario, Black people comprise 2.3% of practising physicians, yet 4.5% of Ontarians are Black. Meanwhile, Black workers (particularly Black women), are over-represented in front facing service provider roles including personal support workers and registered practical nurses. Black physicians, physician trainees and racialized health care providers report experiencing racism in Canadian health care institutions.

Systemic racism (also referred to as structural or institutionalized racism) is deeply embedded in Canadian institutions, a problem that has been formally recognized by the Canadian government. Anti-Black racism is a specific form of racism, rooted in the history and experience of enslavement, that is targeted against Black people, people of African descent. 

“There is a substantial and growing body of research linking racism to poorer health outcomes, with the greatest impacts appearing in the realm of mental health,” explains Dr. Onye Nnorom, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Lead at DFCM and Black Health Theme Lead for the Temerty Faculty of Medicine. “This impact can happen directly, due to the stress of microaggressions and everyday racism, or indirectly, as a result of the legislation, policies and practices embedded in our institutions.”

“In order to address the harmful health effects of anti-Black racism in Canada, we who work in health care must acknowledge the existence of anti-Black racism in our systems and commit to meaningful, sustained change.”

While many institutions are working to address structures and policies that perpetuate Anti-Black racism, there is much more work to be done.

At DFCM, our goal is to build a Department that is organized and operates according to principles of equity, anti-oppression and social accountability in our various areas of work. With this aim, the Department plans to examine its practices and structures to better understand and create anti-racist, inclusive and culturally safe environments for colleagues, learners and patients. 

Initial steps have included equity, diversity and inclusion workshops for DFCM’s executive committee. These have been an opportunity to delve deeper into power, privilege and oppression in healthcare and education, and reflect upon personal roles, biases and impact on colleagues, learners and patients. These are valuable steps in a long journey.

“As care providers, educators, researchers and colleagues we must recognize that the burden of this work does not lie with those who experience discrimination,” says Dr. Peter Selby, DFCM’s Interim Vice-Chair Research and Senior Medical Consultant at The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. “The lion’s share of the responsibility to create structural change and dismantle the attitudes that promote the status quo lies with all of us - starting with ourselves.”

While DFCM strives to make improvements in this area, Black Mental Health Day is a reminder that anti-Black racism is real and harmful. 

The Black Physicians' Association of Ontario provides a selection of mental health and wellness resources for Black professionals and community members.

Further reading: Time to dismantle systemic anti-Black racism in medicine in Canada, CMAJ