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