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Karen Samuels.

Published on September 16, 2022.

By: Sydnee Walcott

Mental health plays a significant role in an individual’s life and productivity, which can influence their social engagement in relationships and physical health. When people look after their mental health, they can positively preserve their quality of life. However, unexpected mental health issues can hinder one’s ability to take on some of life’s most basic or challenging tasks. Some of these issues can affect one’s mood, including stress, depression and anxiety.

Anyone can suffer from mental health issues no matter what race, gender, age, or social status an individual may identify with.

While some communities recognize that mental health illnesses are health problems that require treatment, others view them as taboo subjects and would prefer to ostracize those that show symptoms of mental illness. This is because people who have depression or anxiety are viewed as weak in society or deemed moral or spiritual failing.

The Black community happens to be one of those communities that view mental health as a taboo topic.

Many factors play a role in the beliefs about mental health in the Black community. These issues include societal pressures, stereotypes, systemic racism, and the misconception that mental health can disappear on its own. Not to mention the lack of Black mental health professionals in the industry can produce limitations on adequate resources.

Due to this ongoing stigma, it can be difficult for people within the Black community to seek the help they need.

According to a survey by the Mental Health Commission, only 38.3 per cent of Black Canadians utilized services to combat their mental health issues. This is compared to the 51 per cent of White Canadians who used mental health services between the years of 2001 and 2014.

Steps should be taken to de-stigmatize seeking help and build stronger mental health awareness initiatives within the Black community.

This can include spreading powerful messages that reveal the benefits of engaging in mental health support. This can also include messages that advocate for preserving good health. In addition, including Black representatives in mental health programs to ensure that all professionals receive cultural competency training to effectively understand and address the lack of mental health resources in the Black community is something that can be done to help make positive progress.

On June 28th, the Toronto Police Service, youth, and community members a part of the Youth2Youth Global team collaborated to help stop the stigma of mental health in Toronto’s West end. At four McDonald’s locations, they gave out free ice cream and water bottles as an incentive, while encouraging patrons to donate and support youth mental health awareness at the event.

Patrons were also encouraged to interact with community officers to discuss the work they do within the community and the opportunities they provide to the youth. These opportunities range from mental health awareness, volunteering, and job prospects in different fields at the four participating locations.

Karen Samuels, a mental health advocate, spoke at the event and shared a few of her thoughts on mental health issues and awareness.

“I do not fit the traditional look of what everyone thinks mental issues, struggles, and confusions look like,” said Karen Samuels.

Samuels, who has dealt with mental health struggles since the age of three, discussed the difficulties people face when they do not have someone to confide in. An issue she faced growing up.

She has been told countless times that she uses her mental health as an excuse. She has also been told to get over her problems without people understanding that these internal struggles exist, even though most view these feelings as invalid and invisible.

“I can only imagine what an eight-year-old, three-year-old, 10-year-old, and even a 15-year-old has to go through,” she said.

Samuels participated in this event to encourage awareness within her community and support the youth to help prevent them from facing the struggles she went through.

In an interview, Samuels explained that in order to knock down the stigmas of mental health in the Black community, more awareness should be brought through programs. There should be more people open to listening, learning and educating.

“We need to knock down the labels and stigmas, and it’s nothing to them because it’s something to someone,” she concluded.

Ida-Maria Carriero

“I hope to spread empathy, ideas for coping, and a more open conversation on mental health,” said Ida-Maria Carriero, the founder of Youth2Youth Global.

The 15-year-old who suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), established the non-profit organization to raise awareness of youth mental health through workshops and chooses to share her story through motivational speaking.

GAD is a mental disorder caused by persistent and excessive stress about issues pertaining to financial status, family issues, and work-life.

A person is diagnosed with GAD when they find it difficult to control their stress and anxiety for six months and must have three or more symptoms to qualify.

At the event, Carriero further discussed the ways in which anxiety is a disruptive experience, even though it is a very real and common mental illness.

Besides being a mental health advocate, Carriero is a singer-songwriter, dancer and actress. She engages within the performing arts, which acts as a coping mechanism to help her confront and manage her anxiety.

Constable Isabelle Cotton.

“Music, dance, and musical theatre allowed me to express my thoughts and energy. It allowed me to love myself, and it turned my struggles into big dreams,” Carriero said.

This month, Carriero released her first original song, “Today I,” performing it at the event after talking about her struggles with GAD and how the arts has played a role in helping her cope with her anxiety and express who she is.

When it comes to advocating for mental health awareness among the youth, Carriero is currently working towards implementing a curriculum that addresses mental health awareness to students in grades four to eight.

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