ental health is at an all-time low.
I spend my nights mirroring my days by mindlessly scrolling on social media. Keyword: mindless.
There’s nothing like avoiding thoughts and feelings by going on social media to keep me from my discomfort. It’s like a movie on mute—you know that it’s playing in the background and you hate yourself for watching a movie without sound.
It’s not long until I come across an ad for a wellness product. Keyword: mindfulness.
The need for mental health support has increased since the beginning of the pandemic. A survey on COVID-19 and mental health showed that higher proportions of young adults suffered depression and anxiety between fall 2020 and spring 2021. Data showed that visible minority groups were more likely to report poor mental health than white people in 2020.
It’s no kept secret that the impacts of the pandemic have spread into every aspect of life, and dug its talons into an already-punctured structure.
A 2020 statement published on Alliance for Healthier Communities stressed that Black people across Ontario are overrepresented amongst the working poor, many of whom have lost employment as a result of the pandemic. These factors exacerbate precarity, food insecurity, isolation and mental health concerns.
The BIPOC community has been disproportionately affected by the devastating outcomes of the pandemic, on top of already having to carry the weight of systemic injustices within them.
Nicole Franklin, owner and clinical director of Live Free Counselling Services said there’s a lot more to deal with in the BIPOC community. She talks about two pandemics, the first being the 2020 racial justice uprisings across North America, which uncovered a lot of emotional distress.
“For us, it’s not just about taking care of ourselves, it’s about taking care of us, our families, everyone that came before us, everyone that's coming after us,” she said. “As diverse as Toronto is, these culturally relevant supports for mental health and wellbeing are still missing.”
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s (CAMH) released its first report of 2022, which concluded that Canadians are experiencing high levels of anxiety, loneliness, and feelings of depression.
With an increase in mental health struggles among Canadians, 24 per cent disclosed to CAMH that they wished to access proper mental health support throughout the year, but were unable to receive them.
So, what do you do when there’s a high demand and short supply? You make some money off of it.
Brands, businesses, and corporations have taken full advantage of the increasing demand for well-being, mental health, and self-care during the pandemic. When they noticed that their profits were dropping quickly at the start of the pandemic, they needed to act fast before losing face. They succumbed to caring.
With hardly any mental health support, many of us looking for help turned towards temporary solutions to feel better.
Their advertising language shifted from buying into the best life to a better one—one that won’t be as bad if you had their product at your fingertips. Businesses turned to humans, who, at their lowest, continued to buy betterness-in-a-box to remain above the curve. Everyone was hit by the pandemic, but not everyone was in the same boat.
A lot of Franklin’s clients are Black women and femme folks who don’t see themsevles in that commodified version of self-care that brands try to sell.
“It’s almost as though they are not as deserving of that self-care and of that rest,“ she said.
Her patients often ask her what they can do to heal from their trauma and handle being overwhelmed. They tell her ‘I'm looking at these ideas of self-care and these bubble baths, and spa days, and that’s no longer enough.’
We continue to buy into the $1.5 trillion wellness industry’s meaning of self-care. Countless hours put into routine rituals and cleanses that promise to make us feel and be better.
We’re presented with unlimited products to buy and fewer steps to take to achieve total mindfulness, while the ability to receive proper mental health support is slim to none.
Instead of taking the time to sit with our discomfort and acknowledge what we’re feeling bad about, we over-stimulate ourselves with these one-size-fits-all consumer products made to mask how we actually feel.
In the name of wellness and self-care, brands promoted powdered greens in a bag in a just-add-water format, athleisure that promised afternoon walks across the street, and candles with built-in productivity aromas. Don’t even get me started on the loungewear push.
To make matters worse, much of the lifestyle being sold to consumers only picture a very specific type of person, and completely disregards diversity in their campaigns. As Franklin puts it, “unless it’s Black history month, or unless they were kind of trying to jump on the Black Lives Matter bandwagon, there wasn't actually diversity in those marketing ads.”
Dr. Katy Kamkar, Clinical Psychologist at CAMH expressed the importance of accessing online resources and treatment to deal with mental illness, psychological disorders, and mental health issues.
“If you have a heart disease you have to take care of the disease,” she said. “It is not a self-care product or a cream that is going to help you overcome heart disease,” she said.
I’m guilty of buying into the self-care persona that I wish to be—convincing myself that once I buy this product, I, too, will be able to live the life that I want. When in reality, no amount of face scrub will heal my trauma.
The commodification of care boils down to a quick and temporary solution that in no way favours the complexities of a mental illness. Buying your way out of your mental health illness always fails because it ignores your emotional and psychological needs. It doesn’t provide any meaningful tools for emotional healing.
Some may genuinely enjoy doing face masks and purchasing a new product for a brief moment of serotonin. Some channel this self-care into spending time with friends, family, getting active, or even finding joy in listening to your favourite music.
Franklin pointed out that sometimes, self-care can be found in political acts, such as marching and standing with your community. “It’s so much bigger than what’s being sold.”
Self-care is not a uniform solution to our problems. It truly depends on your personal values and preferences, which is ultimately more personal than the insincere branded self-care marketed to us. There has never been anything more disingenuous than a brand that promises care.
“Everyone's needs are very different, everyone has to juggle different roles and responsibilities. people's mental health can also be very different in terms of quality of life and wellbeing,” said Dr. Kamkar.
So, now what? How do we actually get the help we need when approaching accessible care is hard to come around?
Dr. Kamkar stressed the importance of continuing the research, building further resources, and creating access to care. “If we are talking about mental illness, psychological disorders, mental health issues, then access to treatment and resources are very important.”
Franklin added that in order to even see what you need, you have to take the time to rest and sit with yourself to figure out what you need. “Stop experiencing that burnout just for a couple minutes, just to see clearly where you’re going, and what’s next.”
You can still participate in these pleasures without having to break the bank or ignore your needs. In addition to overall wellness, you can add these points to your routine to stay structured.
It’s never too late to reach out.
The Hope for Wellness Help Line offers immediate mental health counselling and crisis intervention to all Indigenous peoples across Canada. 1-855-242-3310
Black Youth Helpline is a primary prevention of social, psychological breakdown in communities through a focus on education, health and community development. 416-285-9944
Talk4Healing is a culturally grounded, fully confidential helpline for Indigenous women available in 14 languages all across Ontario. 1-888-200-9997
Community Crisis Program for individuals who are 16 years or older and who are experiencing mental health symptoms, including feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or anxiety. 416-495-2891
Crisis Service Canada an equitable, accessible service, there to support anyone in need living anywhere in Canada. 1-833-456-4566.
Healing in Colour offers a directory of BIPOC therapists who are committed to supporting BIPOC— in all our intersections.
Black Health Alliance focuses on moving the dial in the areas below will lead to the greatest impact in our communities.
Centre of Addiction and Mental Health Canada's largest mental health teaching hospital.