Mental health and wellness in the black community

February, known as Black History Month. Let’s talk about an important theme: “health and wellness”.

Let us remember that a single month is not enough to celebrate black communities. It should be an integral part of everyday life, of your strategic initiatives and of your HR programs. February is therefore a moment in the year to remind you to accentuate those initiatives!

A major issue in black communities: health and wellness

Between the health crisis, racial tensions and the modification of the organization of work (physical attendance VS remote), everyone’s mental health has been tested for 2 years now. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by professional and personal responsibilities. This accentuates the symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression among your employees.

What’s going on with your black employees? Indeed, it is important to note that the reality is quite different when it comes to them.

A few facts [1] :
  • About 35.4% of black Canadians, in 2020, felt they were experiencing significant psychological distress, and 34.2% of them had never used mental health services.
  • The unemployment rate is higher among Black Canadians. Thus, the latter may have restricted access to several mental health services, especially when compared to those who are able to pay privately or go through employer-sponsored insurance plans.
  • Black Canadians are more likely to have difficulty finding family doctors, who often serve as an important first access to mental health care.
For those who have access to mental health care or resources, what stands in the way?

First, we need to aknowledge that historically, black people assume a certain anguish and a dull pain not only of what they represent in society as individuals, but also of the collective group. Also, black employees do not have this tendency, compared to other colleagues, to use work as a resource for their mental health or to voice their concerns in the workplace. It is simply that they are more afraid of being more marginalized. This is especially true when talking about systems that have historically used their vulnerabilities against them.

Second, there is also a lack of trust in the health system. The reason being the historical abuses under from discrimination and false beliefs. Indeed, a misconception, still rampant, is that black people are naturally more tolerant of pain compared to people of other ethnic communities. Indeed, this type of discriminatory thinking is harmful and decreases the relationship ratio between blacks and health professionals. This is even more true in voluntary mental health care.

What can you do as an employer?

First, it’s important to incorporate an EAP (employee assistance program) into your benefits package, if you haven’t already. This is a program that provides access to minimal health-wellness services. It is also important to encourage their use, so that it is beneficial for ALL your employees. Maintaining good overall health necessarily involves mental health and your employees must be made aware of this necessity.

Finally, it would be interesting to consider including community representatives or professionals aware of cultural issues in your social programs. This is more important since we now know that the black community faces these issues differently. Indeed, studies have shown that integrating culturally appropriate care into such programs improves the use of mental health services among Black people in Canada[2].

So, if you are running out of ideas on how to celebrate Black History Month, I invite you to investigate your internal practices sooner than later. This is even true, especially if you feel that some of your employees could be left behind. This way, you will be busy for a good part of the year and February will no longer be an excuse to improve your image!

By Noellie Dias, CRHA,
Human Ressources Consultant, 
HR Blog Editor – Iceberg Management