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Stacy-Ann Buchanan: Raising Awareness For Mental Health in the Black Community

Posted January 26, 2016 in Bell Let's Talk by 3

Stacy-Ann

Stacy-Ann Buchanan is an actress, producer and filmmaker from Toronto. Drawing from her personal battle with depression and anxiety, Stacy-Ann was inspired to use her artistic skills to help change the face of mental health in Canada. Having experienced the stigma that surrounds mental illness in her own community, she produced and directed a documentary in 2015 titled, The Blind Stigma: Mental Health within the Black Community.

Through this documentary, Stacy-Ann sheds light on the stigma of mental illness and challenges the misconceptions ever present in her community and society at large. Her goal is to provide a voice to Black Canadians living with mental illness while educating our society to become more informed and empowered.

We spent some time with Stacy-Ann to find out more about the inspiration behind the documentary. Read her powerful insights in the interview below:

What mental health stigmas have you experienced within your community?

Within the Black community, I have found that mental illness is often “swept under the rug.” We don’t talk about it. When I was going through various stages of depression, drinking tea and praying was viewed as the best way for me to get better. Having a mental illness was the big elephant in the room. Worst of all, my mental illness was considered a shame in my family and, as a result, it was never addressed.

What inspired you to create your documentary?

My own battles with anxiety and depression inspired me to create this documentary. In 2011, while living in Vancouver, I was diagnosed with anxiety. At the time, I didn’t know anxiety and mental illness affected black women. I honestly thought it was something that just didn’t touch my community and I realized then just how damaging my ignorance was.

When my health took a turn for the worse, I moved back to Toronto. By then my anxiety spiraled into depression. When I cried out to my father for help, he told me to “be quiet and just pray about it,” which sent me into a stage of suicidal thoughts. I had no way of releasing this built up fear inside of me and every day it continued to grow. One day, my father suggested that I share my problems with people outside of our “circle.” His fear was that if I told my friends or other family members, he would look like a failure and it would cast this sense of shame upon our family name. Not realizing the professional support that was available to me, I took his suggestion and opened up to a complete stranger.

From then on, I continued to share more of my fears with strangers while simultaneously beginning a self healing process. As my healing grew, my confidence did too and I began to create a success story within my community. But people started to see my strength without understanding my journey to recovery. That’s when I knew that I had the ability to inspire change. As a result, I decided to create The Blind Stigma, with the goal of removing the veil of shame that clouds the topic of mental illness in the Black community while also leaving the audience more educated and empowered.

What stories does your documentary help bring to life?

Along with my story of being pressured to be successful, The Blind Stigma unravels stories from a mother and women’s rights advocate, a formerly incarcerated football player and artist, a wellness coach and a university dropout turned best-selling author, all of whom share their mental health experiences with vulnerability and honesty. The documentary also explores stories of bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, as well as other less widely known mental illnesses. Throughout the film, mental health professionals, caregivers, and everyday citizens provide additional context that helps the audience relate.

What did you learn from producing this piece?

I was very mindful and careful to not exploit the journey of my brave storytellers. I made sure I created a safe environment for them while delicately showcasing their experiences. Doing so helped me understand how important it is to provide people who are living with mental illness with a safe place where they feel comfortable to be themselves.

Creating this documentary also taught me two very profound lessons. First, talking openly about this subject is long overdue and secondly, that there’s a huge stigma surrounding mental health in many different cultures.

What message do you hope viewers take away from this documentary?

I would love for the viewers to take away the underlining message that they are not alone – help is out there.

What advice would you give to others who are impacted by mental illness?

The most important suggestion that I can provide is to find someone with whom you can confide in and share your thoughts with them. The more you express what’s happening to you and how you are feeling, the better you’ll start to feel. My next piece of advice is to seek the help of a professional to help you learn how to master the art of conditioning your thoughts. This helped me to create a more positive outlook on my life and it may help others too.

Let us know what you think

  • Al Levin

    Thank you for creating what sounds like a very powerful documentary. I have watched some of the trailers and I look forward to watching the entire documentary. You are a strong and brave advocate! As a white male who was mentally healthy and happy for many years, I was surprised to find myself checking myself into a three-week partial hospitalization program for major depression. I am a school administrator in an urban district that does a lot of work around racial equity. People would come and go in the partial hospitalization program as their three weeks were up. I noticed quickly that all of the twenty or so patients were white males and/or females. In my three weeks there, one black male showed up for two days and did not return.

    I also attend a men’s depression support group twice a month. Every person in all of the groups (probably about twenty men) are white.

    I have also recently been trained to present for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and was thrilled to see a black man being trained, as well. One way, I believe, to help minimize the stigma in the black community is to have more black men and women sharing their stories and their struggles. As a white male, I think about how strong black men and women need to be in the battle of racial equity throughout their lives and I wonder if that adds to the stigma and the challenge of speaking out, as a black person, about struggling with one’s mental health. I like to think of myself as an ally in the work of racial equity and I plan to get curious about how I may be an ally in the work of supporting people of color, in particular, regarding the stigma of mental health in their communities.

    I have begun blogging about depression, the stigma, suicide prevention/awareness, and our mental health system at allevin18.wordpress.com. You can also find me on Twitter @allevin18.

  • Elizabeth Jean Sullivan

    Hopefully someday people will realize that mental illness can strike anybody, no matter what nationality so there will be no more fear that people with mental illness are “inferior’, or of it being a sigh of “failure” on part of the parents.

    • Bell_Blog

      Hi Elizabeth,

      Thanks for taking the time to read our post and for expressing your thoughts. We share your hope of one day being able to end the stigma surrounding mental illness. The more we talk about our mental health, the closer we will get to creating a stigma-free Canada.

      Have a great day,
      - Hailey