Mental health biggest issue of 2021 for P.E.I.'s BIPOC USHR

During a busy year of growth for P.E.I. group BIPOC USHR, the issue of mental health kept coming up again and again. 

‘2021 was a very busy year for us’

BIPOC USHR members talk about what it takes to make P.E.I. more inclusive for all

2 years ago
Duration 2:01
Some of the members of P.E.I.’s BIPOC USHR talk about what the organization means to them, the community and those looking to push for racial justice on the Island.

During a busy year of growth for P.E.I. group BIPOC USHR, one issue kept coming up again and again: mental health. 

"That seems to be the most common issue that people come to us with. If it's not directly a mental health issue, then it's indirectly," said Sobia Ali-Faisal, the executive director of BIPOC USHR (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour United for Strength, Home, Relationships.) 

The group, which first formed in 2019 and became a non-profit in 2021, provides support and advocacy for BIPOC communities on P.E.I.

The BIPOC USHR sign on the door of its new office. In 2021, the group hit some major milestones, including becoming a non-profit and hiring three permanent staff members. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

"Immigration, well, it's impacting their mental health.… If they're having housing issues it's impacting their mental health. Employment issues, it's impacting their mental health," said Ali-Faisal. 

Mental health is "something that a lot of BIPOC communities don't even talk about," she said. 

"So we are grateful that people are coming to us with this and talking, willing to talk to us about it." 

Feeling unwelcome

For BIPOC communities, mental health is different, said Ali-Faisal, and can involve marginalization or racial trauma. 

"Just being in a space where you feel unwelcome or you feel different or you're treated differently," she said.

"Research has shown that the impact of that kind of treatment is very detrimental on people because it's happening all the time."

People are willing to learn. People are willing to engage with the things that we're saying, the issues that we're bringing up.— Sobia Ali-Faisal, executive director, BIPOC USHR

She said many people in BIPOC communities are also dealing with the impact of colonization on mental health, including Indigenous people and those who come to P.E.I. from countries that were once colonized. 

"Mental health care providers need to understand those contexts of colonialism, of imperialism, of racism and the impacts that those systems have on our mental health," said Ali-Faisal.

One of the group's plans for 2022 is to provide more mental health support to its members, as well as a project on employment and the barriers they face. 

"We want to do fun activities as well, to do community-building within our communities," Ali-Faisal said. 

Own space makes 'huge difference'

Along with becoming a non-profit, BIPOC USHR reached two major milestones in 2021: securing its own physical space in downtown Charlottetown, and gaining funding to be able to hire three staff members, including Ali-Faisal. 

The new BIPOC USHR office and drop-in space in downtown Charlottetown. 'Having our own space makes a huge difference for us,' says Ali-Faisal. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

"Having our own space makes a huge difference for us in multiple ways," she said. 

"Now people can actually come in, they can talk to us. They can come hang out. They don't even have to talk to us. If they just want ... a quiet space, they can come in and hang out here."

'It gives me a lot of hope'

Ali-Faisal, who grew up in Charlottetown, said she's noticed people on P.E.I. are changing in the way they approach issues within BIPOC communities. 

"People are willing to learn. People are willing to engage with the things that we're saying, the issues that we're bringing up," she said. 

"It gives me a lot of hope for not only next year, but years to come, for our work, for our communities as well."


Isabelle Gallant is an Acadian radio producer and web writer based in Prince Edward Island. She has worked at the CBC for 15 years.