“What determines oppression is when a person is blocked from opportunities to self-development, is excluded from the full participation in society, does not have certain rights that the dominant group takes for granted, or is assigned a second-class citizenship, not because of individual talent, merit, or failure, but because of his or her membership in a particular group or category of people” (Mullaly, 2010, p. 40).
Ontario is currently undergoing transformation of children’s mental health to create better service delivery and support easier accessibility for mental health services for children and families. According to the draft report on Moving on Mental Health report, “the government is committed to improving mental health services for children and youth with mental health problems so that they and their parents have access to a consistent set of easy to identify supports and services and confidence in the people and agencies providing those services” (Ministry of Children and Youth Services, 2013, p. 4). Currently, mental health services have not been accessible for all children and families, and service delivery has worked with a medical model which does not work well with many families who ascribe to a different belief and practice system. Families have experienced barriers to accessing services and to finding services which are responsive and empathetic to their families’ needs. Some families have experienced inaccessibility due to experiences of oppression, racism, inequitable practices, and cultural insensitivity. Through the Moving on Mental Health, the government assured to develop accessible and diverse children’s mental health services in Ontario which were focused upon:
• the promotion of optimal child and youth mental health and well-being through enhanced understanding of, and ability to respond to, child and youth mental health needs through the provision of evidence informed services and supports;
• provide children, youth and families with access to a flexible continuum of timely and appropriate services and supports within their own cultural, environmental and community context;
• provide community-based services that are coordinated, collaborative and integrated, creating a culture of shared responsibility; and,
• be accountable and well-managed (Ministry of Children and Youth Services, 2013, p. 5).
During this period of change within the children’s mental health services, there were also changes in how agencies conduct their businesses and ensuring that inclusive and equitable services are provided to their service users. Another key feature of changes is the Accessibility for Ontarians Disability Act, which sets legislation in place that enforces businesses and organizations to develop and follow legislation and policy which fosters accessibility and inclusive environment (Ontario Human Rights Commission, 2016).
Furthermore, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which completed a comprehensive report on the experiences of Indigenous communities in Canada promoted legislation and policy development which acknowledged racism and oppressive practices within institutions. This report played a significant role in advocating for the adoption of anti-oppressive and cultural competent practices for Indigenous communities. Some of the recommendations suggested changes to legislation would help to ensure areas of need would receive appropriate funding for their programs. Often times, agencies can respond by developing creative and innovative ways to engage in communities based upon what would work best for them.
Many organizations have responded to these significant governmental changes and to other similar events by developing anti-oppressive and inclusive practices within their organizations. It is believed that by creating sustainable and cultural changes within the organization there will become greater accessibility for diverse families and communities to receive mental health services.
Systemic racism impacts the social and cultural fabric of the city, as well as the mental health of its participants. Systemic racism can appear overt, as described in the above article with an African-Canadian youth was referred to in a hateful term. This is evident in staff room discussions or used by youth to staff. This experience can have lasting traumatic effect on the individual, their brain functioning and mental health. Systemic racism can also be easily silenced by others. This silencing can also occur within the workplace, and lead to disastrous effects upon the employee. Other times, systemic racism is embedded within the policies and practices of the agency.
Studies find that mental health awareness and psycho-education is critical within communities impacted by racism and discrimination. Research demonstrates that racism can create barriers to access mental health services (Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012). In all, it is important for organizations to develop an equity strategy plan to address inequities which occur in their policies and procedures, their organizational culture, leadership and employment.