Through our joint provincial Youth Action Committee (YAC) with Children’s Mental Health Ontario we support young people in identifying major issues youth experiencing mental illness are currently facing in Ontario. The YAC’s role is to engage with youth across the province and work together to report on its findings and generate youth-led policy recommendations to stakeholders who are responsible for change.
In 2020, the Youth Action Committee met for a new policy cycle. With a diverse committee of youth from all across Ontario, we met for the first time in March. This was a time to get to know one another, to build connections, and to brainstorm and select our project topic that we would work towards for the next 2 years. After many conversations with our committee, it was clear that we needed to work towards Equity in the Child and Youth Mental Health System as our topic, as this has been a long standing issue many youth face in Ontario.
Shortly after our meeting, the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, and we shifted from meeting in person to hosting meetings virtually. We knew that equity was a broad topic and felt that narrowing it would help to have a more focused policy recommendations. For our Youth Action Committee, it was important to focus on Race in the Mental Health System as youth identified that they are experiencing racial disparities within the mental health system in Ontario and that Black, Indigenous, and racialized youth face barriers to accessing quality care due to a multitude of reasons that the YAC will be exploring over the next year.
The YAC will be releasing a survey this week which will be targeted at the experiences of racialized youth within the child and youth mental health system. Our hope with this project is to amplify the voices of racialized youth in Ontario, and we hope that you will continue to support the work our Youth Action Committee does as we move forward.
The YAC wanted you to hear directly from them, why they choose this topic:
Racialized youth face unique challenges when dealing with mental health issues and accessing services. As a diverse YAC with many POC members, we thought race within the mental health system was a topic not even given attention to and that needed a spotlight – Madison, 16
Being racialized has always impacted the way I received services. I believe that human services and specifically mental health services shouldn’t be a “one size fits all”. I understand from my lived experience what accommodations may need to be in place to create a more inclusive system that achieves equitable outcomes for all youth across Ontario – Nourin, 24
Advocating for health equity in the mental health system is very personal to me. I’ve understood from a first-hand perspective how individuals from a low-socioeconomic status (SES) often correlate with poorer overall health. The experiences of racialized and marginalized youth in the Ontario Child and Youth mental healthcare system (CYMH) are not adequately documented. Few studies have examined the cross-section between race and the CYMH delivery for youth in Ontario. If our goal is to create an equitable mental health system, policy-decisions must reflect and incorporate the voices and experiences of racialized and marginalized youth. The YAC has the upmost privilege of amplifying youth voices from equity-seeking groups across Ontario and advocating for an equitable child and youth mental health system – Lewis, 21
I believe this topic is important as racialized youth are oftentimes not provided with proper mental health services for their needs. Many services in the westernized world are geared towards those of Caucasian descent and so it can be much more difficult for racialized youth to find sufficient services – Gregory, 17
It is well documented that there are racial disparities within the mental health system, including the child and youth mental health system. Black, Indigenous and racialized youth face barriers to accessing quality care due to a multitude of reasons including systemic racism and a lack of culturally competent services. As a result of a lack of appropriate access to care, Black, Indigenous and racialized youth often experience poorer mental health outcomes. We recognize that there is a lot of work that needs to be done and we hope that this project can help contribute to creating positive change – Hodan, 23
Personally, as a black woman, who has experienced the mental health system in Ontario I have seen first hand how mental health care disparities can negatively impact the outcome of the patient. Another issue I noticed within the black community is that BIPOC who may be facing mental health issues are less likely to access the system due to fear of receiving differential treatment, community barriers, or lack of cultural competency from providers. After joining the YAC, who had a more diverse team this year, and after expressing my concerns with the system, it became more evident that some of these barriers were also a constant issue with other minority groups when accessing the mental health system and that Ontario’s system is far from equitable. It became important to me that the YAC used its platform to better understand these barriers, and eventually address them through our policy work. Improving access and the quality of care, creating a more diverse mental health workforce, educating providers on cultural awareness are just some of the important changes that need to occur to eliminate the unfair differences within the system. My hope for the YAC is that we are able to deliver recommendations and effective strategies that can be used as a stepping-stone to commence these changes that will provide a more equitable system for our youth – Nneoma, 21
It is important for the YAC to explore Race within the mental health system because there is a lack of support for these youth. The youth who need the most support are being pushed to the side because their barriers are hard to work around or they are “hard to work with.” There are challenges everyday for racialized youth and accessing mental health services should not be one, we can’t start the change without hearing from the ones who have lived this experience. Our committee is very passionate because we are a diverse group that want to see a change for all different personal reasons – Eric, 17
Thank you to our 2020 Youth Action Committee for your thoughtful insight, for amplifying the voices of racialized youth, and for being advocates not only in your communities but for the province of Ontario.
If you have any questions please contact Fizza Abbas, Network Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org