By Shirley Roberts – October 2021 – 

The World Health Organization recognizes October 10th as World Mental Health Day. In 1992, the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) established World Mental Health Day in an effort to promote education and advocate for people experiencing mental health issues. This year’s theme, set by the WFMH, is Mental Health in an Unequal World. 

For Sherbourne Health Counsellor, Taysir Moonim, this “strikes a very real chord because experiences of mental illness, treatment, support and recovery can be so different based on who we are and ‘our place’ in the world.” This is backed up by the WFMH that says 2020 highlighted inequalities due to race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity, and the lack of respect for human rights in many countries, including for people with mental health conditions. 

For St. James Town Digital Media Consultant and Community Ambassador, Sebastien Mendoza-Price, “World Mental Health Day provides an opportunity to reflect on the illnesses that are less visible to the world around us but are equally as valid, and think about how to honour and support these challenges folks face through systemic changes and community support. Recognizing and reflecting is the first step, and a day to get the conversation going is a good start in that direction.” 

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) says that three social determinants are particularly significant for mental health: freedom from discrimination and violence, social inclusion and access to economic resources.

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Canadians in the lowest income group are more likely than those in the highest income group to report poor to fair mental health.  The CMHA reports that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer people also experience higher risks for mental health issues due to discrimination, violence and low income. Many studies have documented that newcomers arrive in Canada with better mental and physical health than the Canadian-born population. Yet this “healthy immigrant” effect disappears after five years.  

St. James Town is a high-density neighborhood, often affectionately referred to as ‘A World Within a Block’ because of its long history of welcoming people from around the world. Sixty-five percent of people are newcomers or immigrants and it has a higher percentage of people of Indigenous origin than the rest of Toronto. Despite this richness in diversity, St. James Town residents face challenges related to poverty and unemployment and a prevalence of mental health issues and addictions. 

Moonim says, “the pandemic has widened many of these gaps and losses. We all have a role to play in addressing these inequalities and disparities of care with practical, local solutions in the community.” 

Mendoza-Price notes,Mental health challenges in St. James Town are often caused or accelerated by systems and structures that marginalize and oppress residents of the community. A therapist alone cannot fix the feeling of anxiety when someone is behind on rent or is living in poor conditions. To fix the mental health crisis in St. James Town (and across Toronto), we must look at government policy and what needs to be changed in housing, healthcare, policing, and economic justice and develop community led alternatives, rather than treating mental health as an individual relationship between patient and therapist/social worker.” 

Throughout the pandemic, The Corner in St. James Town (www.stjamestown.org) has remained open for service, providing telephone or in person counselling on a one-to-one basis. It also facilitates access to practical support and services related to immigration, unemployment, housing, primary care and recycling. Food support is offered through volunteers and community ambassadors who bring groceries to those who cannot leave their apartments. This also provides an opportunity to check in with those who are isolated or struggling with mental health concerns and connects them with needed supports. 

No one should have to face mental health struggles alone. The Corner is there to help. If you or someone you know needs help with their mental health, contact The Corner at 416-964-6657.  

For a great video about how community workers are bringing mental health support to St. James Town, watch:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkpZyMn7vvQ