By Yanet Mengistie
Posted on August 6, 2021
During this year of lockdowns, many have seen the rise of TikTok videos, at-home workout routines and unfortunately, mental health issues. Lockdowns that hoped to prevent the spread of COVID-19 gave rise to mental health issues among old and young alike. Ontario has had one of the longest lockdowns periods compared to all of Canada, which had dramatic effects on the mental health of all Ontarians. For example, polling results from the Ontario section of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) found that 35 per cent consider their current state of mental health as ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’. This is a drop compared to the results of the previous year which had a response of 52 per cent for the same question. However, little investigation has been made into how certain racial groups have had their mental health impacted by the lockdowns.
This is especially important to note because those in the Afro-Caribbean community were overrepresented in the number of COVID-19 cases, but not represented in the effects of the pandemic on mental health. For instance, in August of 2020, while Black Torontonians were 9 per cent of Toronto’s population, Black Torontonians made up 33 per cent of COVID-19 cases that month. The Black Health Alliance expanded on this data and found that regions of Toronto with the highest COVID-19 case rates had larger Black populations. It is therefore safe to say that Afro-Caribbean communities in Toronto have had to deal with overlapping concerns which include the extended lockdowns as well as larger numbers of people in the Black community contracting COVID-19.
Overlapping issues causing mental distress
These overlapping pandemic issues occurring to Afro-Caribbean Ontarians have created harmful conditions that hurt or negatively impacted their mental health. Having to see or know loved ones in your community that are sick or dying produces extreme stress. Additionally, being in areas that are locked down creates further isolation, amplifying stress and depressive symptoms. These combined conditions of extended lockdowns and increased rates of illness altogether have translated to a need for additional mental health resources for Afro-Caribbean Ontarians.
There must be more culturally sensitive and responsive mental health providers who listen to the issues their Black patients speak on, and also have a sense of understanding of the specific medical needs of Black Ontarians. This is why finding Black mental health providers who can empathize with their patients is critical for Afro-Caribbean Ontarians beginning to transition out of this pandemic.
Benefits to seeking help
Therapy can be a great and safe space for Afro-Caribbean Ontarians to unpack the impacts of racism on their mental health. Racist stereotypes and assumptions cause Black individuals to be hyper-aware of their actions so they do not experience racism. This leads to internalized emotions or thoughts that do not find expression for fear of being penalized or judged. Having to constantly navigate the world this way can become mentally draining and can result in heightened mental health concerns. Emily Jenkins, a lead researcher of a nationwide monitoring survey regarding mental health and COVID-19, agreed. Jenkins stated “we are seeing a direct relationship between social stressors and declining mental health.” These social stressors being the fear and existence of “stigma, exclusion, racism and discrimination.”
This displays that the mental health of historically marginalised groups, such as those of Afro-Caribbean descent, was already at risk before the pandemic due to these societal pressures. These pressures, compounded with the pandemic which has generated feelings of isolation and loneliness, results in a greater need for Afro-Caribbean Ontarians to seek mental health resources.Therapy has proven benefits. 75 per cent of people who use psychotherapy show improvement in their mental health as soon as six months, though this may not be the same for everyone. The Black therapists or mental health professionals listed below can offer culturally sensitive support in a time of need and directly assist in uplifting Black communities as we slowly transition into a post-COVID-19 era.
Michelle Alveranga and T.R.U.S.T. Wellness
Michelle Alveranga is a mental health professional who offers various services. Michelle is a Grief Counselor and Registered Holistic Nutritionist. She is also the founder of T.R.U.S.T. Wellness. When expanding this acronym one will recognize the practice’s focus on helping people manage and deal with grief and loss:
T.R.U.S.T. Wellness aims to promote wellness and provide tools to deal with grief that will build resilient Afro-Caribbean communities. T.R.U.S.T. Wellness grief services are a timely service as many have lost loved ones due to the pandemic. There are two kinds of services that T.R.U.S.T. Wellness offers. One of the services is a one-on-one support option in which individuals go through a 45-minute session. A resiliency toolkit that best suits the individual and how they grieve is created with the counselor. During the session you will learn:
- Your coping methods
- A self-care routine
- Examine guilt and shame
- Explore the nuance and meaning within a loss
Group workshops are another service offered. During these sessions, groups will discuss ways that an individual’s mind, body and soul are impacted by life events. The group option is temporarily halted, but check back in if this is an option that suits you. These and many other areas of need are explored in each session. For those who may be hesitant about going through the process, T.R.U.S.T. Wellness offers a free 15 minute one on one session to try out this therapy method. Overall, Michelle Alveranga’s treatment could feel like a lifejacket to some coming out of this pandemic.
Meghan Watson and Bloom Psychology & Wellness
The rise of social media has caused many to present a highlight reel of their lives. In doing so, many are looking for relationships that should be a certain way or mimic others. This is what Meghan Watson with Bloom Psychology & Wellness seeks to end. At Bloom Psychology & Wellness the team helps individuals to be the best versions of themselves on their own terms. Meghan Watson and the Bloom Psychology & Wellness team are strong supporters of the BIPOC, Latinx and LGBTQ+ communities. Their team uses anti-racist, non-pathologizing, relational-cultural, feminist and trauma-informed lenses to counsel their patients and to help ensure that their patients get to understand who they are as individuals holistically.
Bloom Psychology & Wellness offers a range of options such as therapy for individuals, couples and a new service called Sliding Scale therapy. Sliding Scale is specifically aimed towards 18-28 years old who do not have health insurance. All services offered by Bloom Psychology & Wellness are virtual and they offer a free 15 minute initial phone consultation. Anyone still adjusting to the many pivots made during the pandemic can try their services free of charge.
Founded by Genevieve Alao, Corner Counsellor has a team of mental health professionals who are ready to help you break down emotional barriers and build the life you want. Alao is a Registered Psychotherapist who founded Corner Counsellor with the goal of making therapy more affordable and accessible to those with small budgets. Alao especially wants to reach communities that have been presented with inadequate or no mental health services.
Corner Counsellor provides services such as:
- Sessions for individuals, couples, or families
- Clinical psychotherapy online, over the phone, in-person
- Services offered can help those dealing with: anxiety, depression, addiction, trauma, and loss
Another highlight of Corner Counsellor’s practice is that they uplift other therapists through the mentoring of newly registered therapists. Alao is a true mentor and advocate for those in need.
Combined, these three women and their practices could help individuals make sense of what may have been a terrible year and a half. While many businesses and gatherings re-open, the mental impact from last year may not disappear by shopping or sitting on a restaurant patio. A lot of intentional emotional and mental work needs to take place to repair the impacts of last year. T.R.U.S.T. Wellness, Bloom Psychology & Wellness and Corner Counsellor can aid Afro-Caribbean in the unprecedented transition into life after COVID-19.