By Neil Armstrong
The New Year’s Day death of 2-year-old Evadne Williams-Scott and the arrest of her mother, Teresa Williams, has brought to the fore the issue of mental health.
The Peel Regional Police said on January 1, 2013 officers responded to a call about a “hysterical woman” who was barefoot in the snow on the balcony of a home at 3480 Colonial Dr. in Mississauga, just west of Toronto. Police found the woman barricaded inside her home.
When they got inside, officers had to use a stun gun to subdue her and the toddler inside suffering from “obvious signs of trauma”. Last Friday residents of the townhouse complex where the two lived in Mississauga, Ontario held a vigil for the toddler.
Williams, has been charged with second-degree murder and a psychiatric assessment is being conducted to determine whether the 24-year-old is fit for trial.
The tragedy occurred almost three weeks after a new mental health initiative for black women and women of colour was launched at a pioneering community health centre in the heart of Toronto, Canada.
Women’s Health in Women’s Hands community health centre (WHIWH) is a team of health professionals who work from an inclusive, feminist, antiracist, anti-oppression framework to provide community, mental and clinical health promotion support to black women and women of colour from the Caribbean, African, Latin American and South Asian communities in Toronto and surrounding municipalities.
Notisha Massaquoi, executive director, says there is usually a lot of stigma around discussing mental health, especially when it affects the life of someone on a day-to-day basis.
A study by the community health centre found that black women and women of colour have the highest rates of HIV, diabetes and mental health issues.
In seeking different ways to engage the community around mental health issues, the centre launched the initiative with three authors talking about their books and being involved in a panel discussion.
The three writers - Farzana Doctor, Kim Green and Staceyann Chin - spoke of their own personal ways of dealing with mental health issues and the importance of cultural connections.
Massaquoi said many women don’t usually seek help for their depression and by the time they are seen at the centre their lives are falling apart.
She said WHIWH designs programs that are specifically for ethno-racial communities and provides solutions that are culturally based.
Their model also includes support systems for the whole family and for the wider communities from which these women come.
The Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario notes that women have unique experiences of mental illness. It says women have depression more often than men, for example, and are depressed in different ways.
Many women have traumatic experiences that affect their mental health. Massaquoi notes that WHIWH works closely with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Heath (CAMH) and that a psychiatrist from the ethno-cultural background of the women comes into the centre regularly to work with these women.
According to a report by CAMH, one in five people in Canada has a mental health concern at some point in their life, but only about 30 per cent of those people seek help.
The report notes that in many cases, people do not realize that they have a mental health concern, or do not have appropriate information about available services.
In other cases the stigmas associated with mental health difficulties is a huge barrier, discouraging people from accessing services or programs.