City of Toronto proclaims Black Mental Health Week in Toronto

Today, Mayor John Tory proclaimed March 1 to 5 as Black Mental Health Week in Toronto. Throughout the week, various events planned by community groups and agencies will focus on the impact that anti-Black racism has on mental health. The week is also a call to action for more support and access to culturally-responsive mental health services and programs for Black residents.

Anti-Black racism continues to affect the lives of more than 400,000 people of African descent who call Toronto home. Experiencing systemic discrimination and microaggressions are social stressors that increase the risk of negative physical and mental health including anxiety, depression, suicide or suicidal thoughts, cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, high blood pressure and premature mortality.

A week dedicated to Black mental health will shed light on and encourage a deeper social commitment to addressing the profound and systemic harms of anti-Black racism on the mental health of Black Torontonians and is an important step to rally people to take collective action by:

  • seeking help for mental health care or encouraging someone else to do so
  • supporting organizations or institutions to adopt a plan for increasing accessibility to culturally-responsive mental health supports
  • inspiring community-led activations that advance existing mental health resources within the community and acknowledge the need for more
  • sharing personal stories so others know that they are not alone.
The City of Toronto has again partnered with TAIBU Community Health Centre, a non-for-profit, community-led organization that serves the Black community across the Greater Toronto Area, and leveraged its relationships, to lead the initiative and animate virtual spaces across Toronto with various community partners.

The Toronto History Museums Awakenings program shares Reflections: Behind the Scenes Discussions. Roger Mooking collaborates with award-winning producer Byron Wong on a series of eye-opening interviews with mental health experts, social justice advocates, cultural leaders and culinary peers. New videos include: Feel Good with Dr. Kamala Uzzell and Julien Christian Lutz pka Director X, and Live from the Barbecue with pit masters Rodney Scott and Matt Horn. Program details are available at http://www.toronto.ca/museums. Additional Awakenings programming will be available throughout 2021.

Today, TAIBU will launch Black Mental Health Week with a panel discussion at 2 p.m. The panel will feature Camille Orridge, Senior Fellow at the Wellesley Institute; Dr. Akwatu Khenti of the City's Black COVID-19 Task Force; and Serena Thompson, Vice President of the Sickle Association of Canada. The panel will discuss how Black communities are systemically disadvantaged from accessing equitable mental health resources and supports, explore how COVID-19 has further impacted the well-being of Black communities and reflect on what the last 12 months have looked like from a community perspective. To watch the discussion live, residents should register for free through Eventbrite at www.eventbrite.ca/e/black-mental-health-week-launch-tickets-143098394149

A person’s sense of belonging and having a place where they feel welcome and seen can have a great impact on their mental well-being. On Thursday March 4, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., the City is launching a public conversation about creating Toronto's first ever Cultural District Plan for Little Jamaica and the Eglinton West neighbourhoods. Since the 1970s, Little Jamaica has been known for its cluster of Black-owned and operated businesses that specialize in Caribbean cuisine, Black aesthetics, hair shops, recording studios and music stores. Join Mayor John Tory, the Black Business Professional Association, Black Urbanism TO and CP Planning for an engaging discussion about the past, present and future of Little Jamaica and how the City can support Black communities and businesses to grow in place. More information is available at www.toronto.ca/littlejamaica.

Other key events include:

  • Mental Health Problems and Consequences of COVID-19 town hall on March 1 from 5 to 8 p.m., co-hosted by the Black Scientists’ Task Force on Vaccine Equity and TAIBU
  • Youth Stories of Love, Comfort, Culture and Survival this Black Mental Health Week on March 3 from 1 to 2 p.m., a collaboration between FoodShare and the Soul Food Project TO to shine a light on the stories of love, comfort, culture and survival from diverse Black youth voices such as Ekow Stone, Hannah Godefa and alias buckley.
Details (including registration) about these and other events can be found at www.blackmentalhealthweek.ca.

Last year the City launched the first ever Black Mental Health Day in partnership with TAIBU. This year, the day 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.

In April 2020, the City developed a COVID-19 Mental Health Support Strategy and partnered with 13 key mental health service providers to support the mental well-being of Toronto’s most vulnerable residents. In order to provide culturally-responsive and appropriate supports to Black residents who are struggling with isolation, stress and anxiety exacerbated by COVID-19 measures, the City partnered with Across Boundaries and Caribbean African Canadian Social Services (CAFCAN) as part of this strategy. Black residents are also able to access services and supports from any of the providers that are part of the strategy, which support a cross-section of diverse Torontonians.

Through the Mental Health Support Strategy, residents from all backgrounds can access free mental health support from the safety of their own homes through text, online or by phone by simply calling 2-1-1 or visiting www.211toronto.ca/. This service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

For those looking for further support, there is a mental health section on the City’s website that is full of helpful advice and resources: www.toronto.ca/home/covid-19/covid-19-protect-yourself-others/covid-19-mental-health-resources/

Quotes:

"Over the past year, we’ve all seen the pain and the trauma that anti-Black racism can have on the Black community. Being on the receiving end can take a toll on people both physically and emotionally. By proclaiming Black Mental Health Week and raising awareness around the need for more services and support, we are fostering an environment that allows for more open and honest conversation which can result in meaningful change. It can be difficult to speak about mental health, but I would like to encourage residents in the Black community to speak about their pain and access to mental health resources not only during Black Mental Health Week but throughout the year so that people can receive the support they need. I want to thank all of our partners for making this week possible and for creating events and opportunities for residents to participate in.” - Toronto Mayor John Tory

“We initiated this historic opportunity to meaningfully support the future of Eglinton’s Black-owned and operated businesses and celebrate the character and identity of Little Jamaica. Working with Black communities to grow without fear of gentrification or displacement will support Black mental health efforts, Black economic and cultural opportunities, and combat anti-Black racism. I look forward to coming together as a community to make this happen.”

- Councillor Josh Matlow, Toronto-St. Paul's

“We continue to build on the strong partnership we have with the City of Toronto in addressing the impact of anti-Black Racism on the mental health of Black communities. Last year, when the City proclaimed the first Monday in March as Black Mental Health Day, we were saying that although one day is not enough, it is important enough to create awareness of the generational and systemic barriers that the Black communities continuously face. This year, we have a week to raise this awareness. A week to continue the conversation among ourselves and with others. A week to rise despite a difficult and challenging year. A week to also look after ourselves so we can continue to confront systemic anti-Black racism. We are grateful to Mayor Tory and the City of Toronto for their continued commitment to the health and well-being of Black Torontonians.”

- Liben Gebremikael, Executive Director, TAIBU Community Health Services

“Across Boundaries’ number one priority is ensuring that Black and racialized communities across Toronto have access to meaningful and appropriate mental health and addictions support. However, we cannot discuss Black mental health without addressing anti-Black racism. This past year has shown what we as an organization have known all along, anti-Black racism is prevalent in our society and has negative impacts on the health of Black Torontonians. I would like to take a moment to thank the City of Toronto and all those that came together create Toronto Black Mental Health Week. We are pleased to have the opportunity to raise awareness around Black mental health and share ideas and solutions.”

- Aseefa Sarang, Executive Director, Across Boundaries

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