Desmond Research: Nova Scotia Has No Specific Mental Health Program for Blacks – Halifax | The Canadian News

As a black man, Lionel Desmond struggled to find help for his declining mental health in late 2016, but there were no culturally specific programs available in Nova Scotia when the Afghan war veteran and his family committed suicide on January 3, 2017. .

An investigation investigating the deaths heard Monday that the lack of culturally competent mental health support and the lack of family violence prevention programs continues to this day, despite years of effort by a group of volunteers. based in Halifax known as the African Canadian Health Association.

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“These services don’t exist,” said Robert Wright, a sociologist who specializes in forensic mental health, trauma and cultural competence.

The provincial fatality investigation, which began hearings in January 2020, turned its attention Monday to the role race played in Desmond’s death; his wife, Shanna; his 10-year-old daughter, Aaliyah; and Desmond’s mother, Brenda, all black.

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Among other things, the investigation was asked to determine whether Desmond and his family had access to appropriate mental health services and domestic violence intervention services. To help answer those questions, the research brought together a panel of four black experts to explore the issue through a racial lens.

Wright told the research that in 2012, the African-Canadian Health Association recommended that the province develop an African Nova Scotia mental health and addiction strategy, which would include culturally specific training for health workers, an online curriculum and the creation of a network of Professionals.

Although some of the training was completed, Wright said, the province dissolved Nova Scotia’s African network in 2016 when the project ended, leaving the nonprofit to keep the initiative alive.

“It has been a job that people have championed from their desks,” said Sharon Davis-Murdoch, director of the African-Canadian Health Association. Murdoch said he has spoken with provincial government officials several times since 2016, and said the discussions started again last summer when a new progressive conservative government was elected.

Additionally, the inquiry heard that the province was involved in creating a Nova Scotia African health strategy, but the inquiry was told that its recommendations have yet to be made public, despite years of consultation.


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Lana MacLean, a Halifax-based social work clinic that has worked as a consultant within Nova Scotia’s African community, said bureaucracy got in the way. “There have been so many organizational changes that it has not become a priority,” he testified.

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MacLean said it was clear that in the months leading up to the murders in Upper Big Tracadie, NS, the 33-year-old former corporal and his wife were desperately trying to find help as he struggled with severe post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, anxiety. and possible brain injury.

“Even though he was psychologically distressed, he was doing all the work to connect with a service provider that would hopefully match his cultural and psychiatric mental health needs,” MacLean told the investigation.

“He did the best he could with what he had. … (But) the resources did not match his psychological or cultural well-being. … It just didn’t fit. “

Cynthia Jordan, a mental health nurse who specializes in trauma, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder, agreed. “He was getting closer,” Jordan said. “But such services didn’t exist in terms of how I needed the services to respond.”

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Jordan and the other experts testified that systemic racism was at the root of Desmond’s many challenges.

He noted that Upper Big Tracadie, Sunnyville and nearby Lincolnville are predominantly Black communities where young black men have long turned to military service to escape poverty. Jordan also noted that the area was home to Canada’s last segregated school, which didn’t close until the 1980s.

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This Canadian Press report was first published on November 29, 2021.

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