Black youth in Edmonton face barriers when seeking mental health support, study shows

A new study from the University of Alberta found that Black youth in Edmonton have trouble getting the help they need for mental health problems. Researchers interviewed more than 120 people and came up with some possible solutions.

More than 120 young people interviewed for University of Alberta research project

129 participants were interviewed to inform the study results. (Submitted by Latoya Reid)

Black youth in Edmonton have trouble getting the help they need for mental health problems, a study from the University of Alberta has found.

Bukola Salami, an associate professor of nursing at the U of A, was the lead researcher in the project, which looked at ways to promote the mental health of African, Black and Caribbean youth in Alberta.

Between August 2019 and March of this year, Salami and her team interviewed 30 Black youths on mental health and held four larger group interviews, which yielded around 100 more participants. 

"Young people talked to us about the lack of Black representation in mental health service delivery, the lack of culturally appropriate services that are available and the lack of anti-racist practices," Salami told CBC Radio's Edmonton AM this week.

"There's also issues of cost, issues of stigma and also challenges in terms of navigating mental health because of their parents' unresolved mental health issues that they are also dealing with."

You can listen to the interview here:

Intergenerational differences

Black children, especially those with immigrant parents, can struggle because some parents are coming at these issues with their own African or Caribbean cultural backgrounds, while Black youth growing up in Canada have that additional influence. This can create a divide, Salami said.

"There's also the issue of some parents have gone through trauma themselves back in their countries of origin and sometimes they have unresolved traumas and because [of that], they can't effectively deal with their child's mental health," she said. 

There's also the issue of not understanding the impact or severity of mental health problems, in some cases. Parents who have gone through traumatic experiences might say to their child experiencing these issues that, "You have food on the table, you have a roof over your head, you've not really gone through too much," Salami said.

The study found that the factors that affect youth mental health had implications for "academic performance, status of relationships, willingness to speak about mental health and overall connections with their communities."

'A white problem'

Young Black people may also feel the pressure to be strong and not ask for help because of societal and cultural expectations, Salami said.

And for some parents, they may see mental health as "a white problem," Salami said. 

"There is a perception that, 'Oh, you can't have a mental health problem because you're Black, you're supposed to be strong,'" she said.

Salami and her team came up with some solutions for the problems she and her team identified in the study. Here are a few:

  • Providing campaigns/programs aimed at increasing knowledge of mental health.
  • Diversifying the workforce and increasing African, Black, and Caribbean (ABC) representation within mental health decision-making.
  • Increasing the availability of free mental health and counselling services for ABC youth.
  • creating Black mental health safe spaces.

In addition to these points, Salami says it's important to address social determinants of health like income, community belonging and racism.

"[We need to address] the intersections of all those determinants."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.



Emily Pasiuk


Emily Pasiuk is a reporter for CBC Edmonton who also covers news for CBC Saskatchewan. She has filmed two documentaries. Emily reported in Saskatchewan for three years before moving to Edmonton in 2020. Tips? Ideas? Reach her at emily.pasiuk@cbc.ca.