By Dr. CHRISTOPHER J. MORGAN
“Before I found out about SAPACCY I was a very isolated individual with very little social and family support. I had many ambitions and goals for myself, but I lacked self-confidence, I was afraid, depressed, and I would use marijuana. I was stuck and unable to make progress in my life.”
Those are the words of a brave young person describing her life, her emotions and outlook a few years ago before her life was changed for the better. She was one of the fortunate ones – whose life was saved. Too many others are lost. Mental illness and addictions among youth and young adults have the potential to ruin and end lives. We are collectively responsible, so what are we doing about it?
This week, May 2-8, is Mental Health Awareness Week in Canada. Throughout this week, the Black Health Alliance (BHA) is featuring on its Black Health Matters page videos, articles and tweets all related to mental health on its website (blackhealthalliance.ca), Twitter and Facebook platforms. The videos will include sections of the forum, “A Sound Mind: Mental Health in the Black Community”, including the keynote address from Dr. Kwame McKenzie, “State of Mental Health in the Black Community” and the BHA 2015 Annual General Meeting which features an address by Nene Kwasi Kafele titled “Mental Wellbeing and African Canadians: Crisis, Resilience and Opportunities for Change”.
In addition, BHA is creating a database of organizations and mental health professionals that serve our diverse Black communities. If you are a mental health provider or know a health professional or organization that should be a part of this database, contact BHA at 647-367-6656 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last week we featured one such program and individual, the Substance Abuse Program for African Canadian and Caribbean Youth (SAPACCY), a program of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and long-time social worker, Donna Alexander.
With Donna’s assistance, this week we hear directly from a young person who was a participant in the program.
How did you find out about the SAPACCY Program?
I found out about the SAPACCY Program at the Evergreen Centre for Street Youth when I met one of the Social Workers from the program who did my pre-assessment so that I could see the psychiatrist for treatment.
What service, support or help did the program provide you and how has it helped?
I did individual therapy that assisted me to make better decisions when it came to my marijuana use and helped me to manage my depression. My social worker also referred me to other places, and assisted me in applying for funding from CAMH to help pay my tuition after she encouraged me to further my education. Overall, the program helped me to gain direction and purpose in my life.
If SAPACCY did not exist, do you think your life would be different today?
If SAPACCY did not exist I can say with assurance that my life would look very different today. The SAPACCY program offered me the opportunity to reconnect with a community and become empowered to take my life into my own hands. It offered me the support and resources I needed to realize my potential and future. The SAPACCY program has been instrumental in my return to school because I gained self-esteem and self-confidence.
There may be other youth reading your story. What message would you give them?
For any youth reading this story I would like to say: Stay. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and to accept help that is offered to you. I also want to tell them to stay focused on their goals and believe in themselves and their abilities. I would also tell them to try and surround themselves with people who believe in them and support them like my social worker from SAPACCY did for me. Nothing lasts forever, no matter what you are going through there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
If you could change or improve how we address mental health and addictions for Black youth, what would you recommend?
If I could improve how we address mental health and addictions for Black youth I would recommend increasing the number of programs geared toward Black youth and also an increase in the number of racialized workers to support the youth.
As a youth in this program I believe that the knowledge and background of my workers was instrumental in positively influencing me to accomplish my goals.
Lastly, this is Mental Health Week in Canada. What does mental health mean to you?
Mental health is made up of biological factors, life experiences and family history. This includes an individual’s overall ability to enjoy life, cope with normal life stresses and having fulfilling relationships with others.
To me, everyone deserves care, help, and support in achieving their best mental well-being.
Thank you for sharing your story, your insights and words of encouragement. This Sunday, May 8, members of the Black Health Alliance and guests will continue the discussion on Mental Health among Black Youth on The Grapevine Program from 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. on G98.7 FM radio. We encourage everyone to tune in and call in. Together we can help one another and create our solutions.
Dr. Christopher J. Morgan is the director of Morgan Chiropractic & Wellness, an interdisciplinary health centre in Toronto; the founder and the former president of the Black Health Alliance, a network of community organizations, health professionals and community members working in partnership to advance the health and well-being of the Black community. He can be reached at 416-447-7600 or email@example.com