By Tonte Spiff
Each year, October 10th is commemorated as International Mental Health Day. Unfortunately, the lack of awareness of mental health issues in most black communities is often times swept under the rug, as if to avoid the reality of the existence of such issues. Most people, especially immigrants have definite difficulty in addressing mental health for what it is, because of the lack of awareness of these issues back home.
To begin with, African countries such as Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, and the Democratic Republic of Congo have been evaluated as some of the lowest ranked countries in the world when it comes to providing care for patients with mental health issues.
Statistics gathered by the World Health Organization (WHO) show that there are approximately 125.2 mental health workers per 100,000 people in the United States, 318.9 mental health workers per 100,000 people in the United Kingdom, and 240.8 mental health workers per 100,000 people in Norway. These statistics are in stark contrast to figures ranging from 0.4 to 0.9 mental health workers per 100,000 people in many African countries, including those mentioned above.
General funding to provide care for individuals with mental health issues is another major problem, but WHO is one of many advocacy groups and humanitarian organizations that have made strides to improve conditions not only in African countries, but also in black communities across Canada and the United States.
An example of this is the WHO’s Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020 Dr. Margaret Chan, describes the action plan as a landmark achievement because it “focuses international attention on a long-neglected problem and is firmly rooted in the principles of human rights.” The four major objectives outlined in the action plan are as follows:
Another concern is discrediting or misdiagnosing a mental health issue, especially by family members. Jeffrey Tekenah, a first-generation immigrant from Nigeria was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at the age of 21 and has struggled with it ever since. Jeffrey’s father initially refused conventional methods of treatment delivered by doctors via different forms of therapy and medication. Alternatively his father turned to the church for support. It is extremely common for parents, especially first-generation immigrants in black communities, to treat problems surrounding mental health as a spiritual issue rather than a health issue. As a result, many black men and women either choose not to report their mental health issue or do so and receive improper reactions.
It is understood that there is a clear need for an intervention with mental health issues within black communities become an epidemic
Canada’s Federal budget, released this past March, includes $19 million over the next five years to develop research and support of more culturally focused mental health programs, in black communities, and more support for youth at risk.
How useful with this prove? Only time will tell.