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Rudy Ray

I’m Rudy Ray, full name Rudolf- Ray Kwaku and I am a Ghanaian-born Canadian trumpeter, actor, editor and trained neuroscientist. I would like to say a bit about Black mental health. 

In my life, I have observed it as a niche often overlooked.  I believe that knowledge about symptoms of conditions that affect mental health; anxiety and depression, mood disorders like dysthymia and bipolar, neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, as well as topics surrounding autism need to become more commonplace discussion in Black communities.  Historically, Black people have had the bitter end of this discourse – given how often black people have been regarded as specimens in the institution of western medicine instead of being cared for as citizens having a human experience. This has created a certain level of distrust in Black people relating to the quality of mental health care they receive.  As a result of this distrust, Black people are less likely to report symptoms of distress when they are experiencing mental health issues.  According to a 2020 Statistics Canada Survey, for most measures of mental health during the COVID pandemic, Black folks reported poorer self-rating of mental health and greater financial insecurity than their white counterparts.  32% of Black visible minorities reported a high level of symptoms related to generalized anxiety contrast to 24% for white respondents.  

Over the years, the racist micro-agressions that have affected my mental health and coloured my experiences as an African Canadian have become easier to identify.  For example, knowing how the police target black people creates an irrational fear and heightened anxiety in me when I sometimes see cop cars. Certainly, this fear has its roots in intergenerational trauma suffered  by Black people as they were historically oppressed and killed by law enforcement.  

I think it is important to consider the stigma surrounding mental health that prevents Black folks from seeking help.  In the psyche of certain black folks, I believe there is a misconception that those who seek professional health have less faith in God, or that mental aid should only be given to people experiencing severe mental illness.  In my early 20s, I started to experience symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder and I was lost in terms of where to seek help.  In Ghanaian culture it is very unusual to speak to one’s parents regarding  mental health issues.  But I like to think that notion is rapidly changing, as I talked to my father about my issues and well,  he did not take it well at first. Maybe he was ashamed that his son was suffering a nervous breakdown and did not know how to help, or perhaps he believed it showed weakness. Whatever the case, he had a change of heart after recounting our family genetic history, the tendencies of intelligence and mental health issues among other factors.  This understanding helped him be more compassionate to my situation as he managed to find me a psychoanalyst who was Canadian-trained and Ghanaian himself, matched my profile and lived in my city.Starting therapy and speaking to this Doctor was a crucial turning point to me getting a hold of myself. I do believe the rise in Social Justice Movements in recent years as increasing the discourse and conversations about issues facing the black lives.  It is also mobilizing black people to work together more in dismantling the broken social systems that perpetuate mental health stigma in the community, creating barriers to seeking mental health support.  Participating in the programs has helped me learn more tools needed for emotional wellness as we navigate our emotional reactions to everything we’re unlearning.

In order to provide better mental health support to POC, we need to train more culturally competent therapists, counselors and psychiatrists.  In my own experience, having a Ghanaian psychoanalyst helped me a lot because I could explore my experiences with him through the most personal honest lens for my very first experience, and trust was born. He could identify ways in which racism was affecting my mental health and help me understand and learn tools to overcome certain obstacles that were culturally specific. Learning to grief and breathe, but I have to admit that my experiences of being able to work specifically with a mental health professional who was from my own culture like in my case, is a rare first opportunity for a person of color in the city of Toronto. I believe that all mental health service providers, despite their background, need to be trained to have a certain level of cultural competency with the black community or any other racialized communities they support. I have a new psychologist, who happens to be white, but very culturally competent and is able to effectively support me. I see her as a truly helpful ally. 

I would love my story to be seen as an example to encourage a call to therapy, for other people experiencing emotional trauma due to racial inequality to seek help, to find more tools to cope and learn about how the simplest mental health exercises, like breathing can tremendously change their lives. I am hoping this story encourages others to tell their own stories of hope and steady transformation.