Dalhousie researcher hopes to create new mental health service for black women

Ingrid Waldron, PhD, associate professor, Dalhousie University School of Nursing. Ingrid Waldron

“Culturally competent care” is lacking in Nova Scotia’s mental health system, according to an associate professor at Dalhousie University’s School of Nursing.

To help fill that gap, Ingrid Waldron, who is also the chair of the Dalhousie Black Faculty and Staff Caucus, is conducting a study on how black women in Halifax cope with mental and emotional issues.

“Black women sit in a specific space where they have a unique experience of black womanhood, just like anyone from another culture,” said Waldron.

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Waldron adds that many black women feel white doctors or mental health professionals don’t understand how central racism is to their experience. The result is culturally incompetent care, she says.

“One of the main concerns that black women have in this city and province is that they have no African-centred counselling support.”

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The aim of the data being collected from the study is to create a new health service for black women at the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA), which Waldron hopes will be ready by next year.

The study is being funded by an award Waldron received in 2018 called the President’s Research Excellence Award for Research Impact. It has not been commissioned by the NSHA.

Waldron said she’s looking for a total of 25 black women of diverse cultures, gender identities, sexual orientations and experiences to participate in the research.

So far, 15 women have been included in the list of those willing to share their experiences with Waldron through a series of interviews.

“I want to get a sense of their experiences in terms of the everyday life issues that impact their emotional well-being, their mental health, including issues related to family partners, workplace and any other everyday life struggles,” said Waldron.

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She’ll also be exploring what black women believe causes mental illness and problems “because then that will take me into another conversation with them about how do you seek help for mental health problems?” said Waldron.

She said black women may seek help from informal sources like friends, family or church or that seeking help may mean going to see a counsellor or therapist.

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“I’m enabling these women to create [the service] by asking them: ‘How do you see it? What do you want from it, and what do you think it should have?'” said Waldron, who hopes to finish all 25 interviews by September.
Ingrid Waldron of Dalhousie University is looking for 25 women who identify as black to be part of her research into what she calls “culturally competent” mental health care. Ingrid Waldron

She said she’ll then be writing a report of 30 pages or less to hand over to the NSHA for their comments.

“To have a mental health service for black women that has never existed in Nova Scotia, I doubt has existed in Canada, I believe it’s groundbreaking.”

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Waldron said that as a researcher, it’s exciting to know that her study can lead to a new mental health service that can help women.

“By creating this data, we can now try to advocate on behalf of the women of Nova Scotia and say: ‘You know what, we need to create a sisterhood,'” said Mario Rolle, wellness navigator for the Nova Scotia Brotherhood Initiative.

Mario Rolle, wellness navigator for the Nova Scotia Brotherhood Initiative. Dalhousie University

According to the NSHA, the Nova Scotia Brotherhood Initiative is a free program for black men to access health care in the community to improve overall health and well-being.

On its website, the initiative says a “team of health-care professionals provide culturally appropriate primary medical care plus health and wellness services for men of African descent across Halifax Regional Municipality” as part of its programming.

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Rolle helps clients connect to primary health-care services and mental health supports. He asked Waldron to conduct her research after seeing black women ask for help through the Nova Scotia Brotherhood Initiative.

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“Usually, when the men come in, they come in with their partners, spouses or other family relatives. We see them either for the navigation component, or it’s for the doctor,” said Rolle.

“And women were always asking: ‘Can we also see the doctor, too?’ The doctor that we have he doesn’t turn away clients so he would see the women there.”

Rolle hopes that Waldron’s data will prove this particular group needs its own support.

“If our women are being taken care of, we know that our men are being taken care of,” Rolle said.

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