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Using film to shatter mental health barriers in the Black community: ‘My feelings are valid’

Click to play video: 'New Film Addresses Mental Health Stigma Among Black Communities' New Film Addresses Mental Health Stigma Among Black Communities
Mental health advocate and filmmaker, Tyler Simmonds, explores the mental health stigma that exists in Black communities in his latest film 'In Search of Healing,' which is screening this week at the virtual Halifax Black Film Festival. – Feb 25, 2021

Tyler Simmonds is using his own experiences to break the stigmas surrounding mental health within the Black community. The mental health advocate and filmmaker is using his passion for storytelling to show that it’s OK to ask for help.

“It’s just a topic that I’m really passionate about,” Simmonds says from his Beaver Bank, N.S., home. “Living with… mental illness and just helping others become more resilient and breaking some of that stigma down.”

In his short documentary, In Search of Healing, screening at the Halifax Black Film Festival, Simmonds interviews health-care professionals and his parents, Marlene and Elroy, about his personal experience with mental health as well as the lack of proper resources available for Black people battling depression.

Read more: Black filmmakers set to shine at the Halifax Black Film Festival

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It is the candid conversations Simmonds has in his film that give the audience an inside look at not only the challenges facing the Black community but also the discrepancies in health care and access to mental health services. He addresses the need for more diversity in the mental health-care system so that people of colour can feel safe while seeking help.

“It can be very intimidating for the Black community,” he says. “When I first started trying to receive help for mental illness it was really tough for me. We have certain ways of communicating and I think that cultural competency really needs to be focused on in the health-care system, just making sure that the Black community feels welcome and understood.”

Finding adequate mental health support can be a challenge met with racism, intergenerational trauma and stigma. According to a 2020 report by Ottawa Public Health, cultural barriers and limitations in accessing affordable and diverse mental health support make it harder to get help.

“Intergenerational trauma is trauma that is passed down,” says Myrna Lashley, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at McGill University in Montreal. “The pain and the angst and the hurt and the fear and… the sense of inferiority that has been imposed on you.”

Read more: Intergenerational trauma is ‘pain’ passed down generations, hurting Black people’s health

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Simmonds explains that it took him many years to find a therapist that he felt comfortable talking to.

“They wanted to know me better as a human instead of making me feel like I was just a number,” he says. “A lot of those people are still part of my support system and still help me weekly, monthly and just keep me in a good headspace, letting me know that my feelings are valid.”

Simmonds was one of five Halifax filmmakers selected to be part of the mentorship program Being Black in Canada. Created under the Fabienne Colas Foundation’s Youth and Diversity Program, Being Black in Canada aims to train, mentor and empower the next generation of Black filmmakers. The free program, presented by Netflix, is the largest mentorship program of its kind in Canada.

The Halifax Black Film Festival opened Tuesday, Feb. 23 and runs online until Sunday, Feb. 28, featuring 75 films from 10 different countries, panel discussions and a new special event series. For more information on the festival, visit halifaxblackfilm.com.

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