The Nova Scotia Health Authority is reviewing a new report on the innovative self-care methods used by Black women in the province who have experienced trauma, but feel unsupported by existing mental health programs.
The report, published earlier this month by Dalhousie University researcher Ingrid Waldron, is meant to inform the creation of a new ‘Nova Scotia Sisterhood Initiative’ — an answer to the existing Nova Scotia Brotherhood Initiative, which provides culturally-competent health care services exclusively for Black men.
Waldron said some Black women have been seeking support from the Brotherhood, evidence of “the gap” in the provincial health care system.
Her report, however, found that Black women have also been filling in that gap on their own with a creative combination of therapies that could form part of the Sisterhood strategy.
Over several months, Waldron interviewed 25 diverse Black women in the Halifax area about their experiences with mental illness, trauma and access to services. Many described difficulty finding professionals who understood their needs, and the role that race, gender identity, sexual orientation and other identities play in the mental struggles of Black women.
Some were consulting counsellors and psychiatrists, she said, and some were using sound baths, prayer, music therapy, essential oils workshops, acupuncture, and more.
“I was pleasantly surprised that they were kind of creating kid of a self-healing, self-care approach that was specifically for them,” said Waldron.
“They were mixing and matching, taking from Western medicine and also from these alternative modalities, and creating something unique and specific for themselves.”
Waldron, an associate professor in Dalhousie’s School of Nursing, said these findings are important as various cultural and societal expectations prevent many Black women from seeking mental health support and stigmatize those who do.
“There are a lot of Black women walking around in pain, but we traditionally aren’t the type of women to seek help because we see ourselves as strong,” she explained.
“Other people see us as strong. They don’t allow us vulnerability. They don’t allow us weakness.”
The NSHA has not formally committed to creating the N.S. Sisterhood Initiative, but says its primary health care team is reviewing Waldron’s report.
“We will continue to engage our health system partners regarding the possibility of developing a funding proposal to put forward to the Department of Health in support of a Sisterhood initiative,” wrote spokesperson Deidre Taylor in an emailed statement.
Waldron’s study participants made several recommendations on the development of the Sisterhood; they said it must employ diverse Black health professionals, include a wide scope of trauma-informed self-healing programs, and be located in Black communities.
The women said it must be near public transit routes, offer flexible hours for shift workers, and free childcare, and acknowledge all of the structural barriers and stigma Black women encounter when seeking mental health.
They also recommended pathways to success for the Sisterhood by conducting community outreach, developing relationships with Black women leaders, and sharing promotional materials on the initiative in community spaces and organizations frequently accessed by Black women.
“They are looking for a service that is kind of a wraparound service that is going to respond to their social needs, their economic needs, their political needs, their community needs.” Waldron explaiend.
“They’re also acknowledging that Western medicine is effective, but not completely effective and they need to dip into alternative modalities.”
Mario Rolle, lead navigator for the Nova Scotia Brotherhood Initiative, said his own program has had profound success with Black men, and he expects a Sisterhood Initiative would have the same impact on women.
“We got to get our people talking,” he told Global News. “One of the keys for me that I see with our men: relationships. Once relationships are build, these guys are able to talk… They just want to be comfortable and they don’t want to be judged.”
Rolle also emphasized the importance of employing people of African descent in such a program, from the management to the clinicians. Health in the Black community, he added, begins with healthy women.
“If the women are healthy, our men are going to be healthy. The women are the ones that will force their men to come see me…to come see a clinician with the Brotherhood.l But if our women are not healthy, it breaks the system down.”