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Mental Health and the Community

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Unfortunately, racialised people, newcomers and people with mental health issues experience racism and discrimination in Canada...brochure of the project

By Neil Armstrong

According to a report by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, one in five people in Canada has a mental health concern at some point in their life, but only about 30 per cent of those people seek help.

The report notes that in many cases, people do not realize that they have a mental health concern, or do not have appropriate information about available services. In other cases the stigma associated with mental health difficulties is a huge barrier, discouraging people from accessing services or programs.

In 2012, a report entitled “Improving Mental Health Services in the Jane and Finch Community” was published from research with the Afro-Caribbean, Latin American, Somali, Tamil and Vietnamese communities.

Among its findings was the following: “Service providers also spoke of the challenges to access posed by the social stigmatization of mental health issues. Service providers agreed that many clients do not like to talk about mental health issues and therefore rely on other ways of coping (e.g., substance use) that do not require them to address the issue.

One of the recommendations of the report is that an annual mental health fair be organized in a community location with culturally and linguistically appropriate materials. It noted that this event would address the need for public education on mental health and illness and on reducing stigma.

Another called for the development of an inventory of mental health and addiction services in the community.

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) defines mental health as “striking a balance in all aspects of your life: social, physical, spiritual, economic and mental. Reaching a balance is a learning process. At times, you may tip the balance too much in one direction and have to find your footing again.”  

In “Understanding Mental Illness, a section on its website, CMHA notes that “mental illnesses can take many forms, just as physical illnesses do. Mental illnesses are still feared and misunderstood by many people, but the fear will disappear as people learn more about them. If you, or someone you know, has a mental illness, there is good news: all mental illnesses can be treated.”

The Canadian Mental Health Association – Toronto Branch offers a program, The Opening Doors Project, which acknowledges that there are strong negative attitudes and behaviours towards people with mental health issues, and/or people who have experiences with the mental health system. It notes that stigma robs individuals of their humanity and prevents them from participating in communities.

Renée Ferguson, the project’s coordinator, says Toronto compared to the rest of Ontario is pretty well resourced, especially for ethno-specific supports. “Much of them are located not necessary in the communities where we live so people are, with the exception of a few, having to leave their community to receive mental health support. This then becomes an issue of access for some people.

She says there is a huge stigma related to mental illness across all communities and cultures so she does not think that the Black, African and Caribbean communities are any different in that sense.

The Opening Doors Project is funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada and is about strengthening, fostering and cultivating healthier communities in Ontario.

It offers free workshops to: newcomer communities, communities of mental health survivors, and mental health services, agencies and institutions. It notes that these workshops are offered because “it is a myth that Canada is a land of equal opportunity without discrimination.”

The workshops are facilitated by peer trainers who have the same lived experiences as most of the people who are participating in them. They have lived experiences with mental health and recovery and with migrating to Canada. “There’s lots of evidence that shows how peer-to-peer education can really help to achieve what your goal is,” said Ferguson, noting that people usually feel validated after hearing the stories from the workshops.

“Unfortunately, racialised people, newcomers and people with mental health issues experience racism and discrimination in Canada,” reads a brochure of the project, noting that “discrimination has negative effects on mental wellness of the individuals and communities.”

Ferguson said that in Toronto “large numbers of people from our community are living  with the reality of underemployment, unemployment and poverty and these are extremely stressful and have a huge impact on our mental wellbeing.”

She said this becomes a cycle because “if you are not healthy it becomes more difficult to be accepted into society and it becomes more difficult to participate in the way that you want to participate.”

To learn more about The Opening Doors Project, email or call 416-631-9896 Ext. 239


Canadian Mental Health Association

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services

Taibu Community Health Centre

Women’s Health in Women’s Hands Community Health Centre


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