Black Mental Health Day

By Shahana Gaur

Black Mental Health Day provides the opportunity to discuss racism and mental health in the African, Caribbean, and Black Community (ABC), and learn more about coping and wellness strategies used in these communities.

We asked members of the ACB community among our staff about how they keep well, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. We sat down with Marc-Anthony Levers, a Safety and Healthy Work Environment Specialist at Humber River Hospital.

What is your role and why is it important to the hospital?

I am a part of a team that ensures the safety of all staff within the hospital. My scope can vary from mental health support to chemical exposure inspections and observations. My role also involves putting in initiatives that ensure the safety of the staff within any hazardous situations, whether that be a slip and fall risk in the hallway or a chemical risk in a laboratory.  My job can vary depending on a broad range of things.

As a member of the ACB community, where both COVID-19 and racism have clashed instantaneously, what strategies would you recommend for coming back from these profound happenings?

There a few different strategies:

  • Knowledge Transfer. Knowledge and knowledge sharing is critically important to me. I always tell younger members of the ACB community that knowledge is the one thing that no one can take from you. If you learn something and share it with those around you, you can then innovate that one thing you’ve learned.

It helps to start a shared understanding of the current systems, then collectively identify gaps and mechanisms for change.  We can start simple, such as when we go to a healthcare facility or see a doctor, start having more dialogues with the people serving us to understand the care we are receiving. There is a lack of trust in some ACB communities about the evolving nature of medicine and we need space to better understand the evolving nature of medicine.

  • Courageous discussion about racism. It is great to have representation, but this can only go so far if no one is talking about the elephants in the room. We need more people to start talking about sensitive topics such as medical racism, which is more commonly known now. Also, medical staff that are members of the ACB community could use their clout to hold more talks with the general community about racism in medicine and healthcare systems. Collectively, they may have the influence to start crucial conversations.
  • Unity within marginalized populations. By this, I mean in terms of having conversations within the community. People have this idea that individuals in higher positions may put those in lower positions down and keep them there, removing their voice. By becoming more cohesive, we can start trusting these individuals in higher positions. There are people within the ACB community that have come out of lower-income situation or the depths of society and serve the same societies that they came from. When we see Black engineers, lawyers and doctors, they should be putting back into the communities they have come from in order to generate more engineers, lawyers and doctors. This can result in diversity in all sorts of jobs.

What do you do to keep well?

Fitness is a big thing for me, I have been active in fitness since I was a teenager. It keeps me as sane as possible because it serves as an outlet. I always need to be able to release stress at any given time, and fitness provides that opportunity. The fact that we have a fitness centre right here at Humber River Hospital is even better for me.* I didn’t have to worry about the fact that external gyms may be closed, Humber supplies us with everything we need in that aspect. I also love gardening, which is a really big stress-reliever for me because it provides introspection on how life works in general. Sometimes, with our gift of higher consciousness we forget that life is very simple, we need to cherish the simple things in life that we often take for granted. I believe that gardening at least aligns me with everything around me and brings down my stress a bit. Things will pass as life progresses. In addition, cooking with my family gives me that sense of cohesiveness. If you are not cohesive with your family, you won’t know how to form a cohesive unit naturally, as this is where most of our group tendencies start. I try to talk and work through things with my family all the time. If we ever have any arguments, I try and sit down with them and talk to them to understand. Also, I try to read a few types of media every day to keep my mind sharp in a variety of topics because I like to be well learned, whether that be people, culture or history.

* Humber River Hospital’s gym remains open but at a limited capacity of 10 individuals at one time.

What changes would you like to see?

I would like to see the end of racial profiling of black individuals, as the ACB community is not one archetype of people. There are different types of characteristics and personalities that we can take on. It is very limiting to keep someone within a box or stereotype. Until we get passed that mindset of profiling everyone we see, especially black individuals, we will never get to a point within humanity where we can evolve and progress. We need to advance our social-political knowledge which will get everyone up to the same speed and once humanity is there, we can do anything.

Profiling, in general, is so inefficient, you are missing out on a whole host of things you can acquire from them, such as knowledge.

Anything to add?

Not everyone had an equal opportunity to thrive in their childhood, this does not mean one is not capable and many times they are highly creative and have high emotional intelligence. When we evaluate capability, it needs to go beyond academic achievement.

This feeds into a mindset that for example, black youth are only good for athletics and music, denied access to other fields such as playing chess which has many intellectual benefits. This perception is transferred in workplaces where there is a limited understanding of what ACB staff can achieve.

Something my dad always told me growing up was that “An idle mind has the capacity to do more malicious or negative things.” If the idle mind does not have things to preoccupy itself with, you could do anything and that anything could become very detrimental.