George Brown alumna and Black Student Success Network students raise awareness of mental illness within the black community
Mental health issues have often carried a stigma within many communities. The Black Student Success Network (BSSN) is attempting to eliminate that stigma within their own community by bringing awareness to the topic.
“As black people we’ve been taught to be strong, we’ve been taught to keep moving and moving forward; we haven’t healed,” said Steffie Grant, a BSSN co-ordinator.
At the BSSN’s Our Stories Our Journey event on March 16, The Blind Stigma, a documentary based on a number of individual experiences with mental illness within the black community, was screened and discussed. The film, which was directed and produced by George Brown College alumna Stacy-Ann Buchanan, brings to light the fact that many folks within the black community are dealing with mental illness in silence and often in shame.
BSSN tries to address this silence and encourage healing through informal talk therapy at their Let’s Talk sessions. These sessions, which are held several times a month, are designed as a safe space for self-identified black students to engage and speak with their peers about their life experiences which impact their mental health.
“It’s a space where we can unload all of the microaggressions, all of the stress that we’re coming with,” explained Segal Suleiman, a BSSN peer leader. “We’re creating this space where we’re allowing people to be comfortable with their black identity and also be comfortable with their mental health issues that they may be facing.”
Buchanan believes it’s necessary to continue these conversations with black folks about mental health in order to alleviate the stigma around mental illness within the community.
As a person that identifies as black as well as having dealt with mental health issues, Buchanan is dedicated to mental health advocacy because the cause is personal to her.
In The Blind Stigma, she spotlights the stories of four other individual’s experiences with mental illness as well as her own story with depression.
When her documentary first launched in 2015, Buchanan said there was an outpouring of support not only within the black community but within the greater Toronto area.
Events like Our Stories Our Journey are a start for mental health awareness within the black community, but much work remains to be done.
Although it helps to open discussions about mental health and illness year round, the very first step begins on an individual level.
“Be proud and own your scars, own your struggles and wear it like a badge,” said Buchanan. “And know that most importantly you are not alone.”