5 ways to decolonize mental health.


Mental health care is essential for our well-being. The dominant colonial capitalist model of mental health care focuses only on individuals, ignoring community and environmental factors. Decolonizing mental health care is crucial to reduce barriers and inequities, especially for marginalized communities. By acknowledging historical, cultural, and systemic influences, we can reshape mental health approaches and improve accessibility.

Here are 5 steps anyone can take to begin decolonizing your own and community’s mental health.

1. Improve access, especially financial.

Colonialism has historically marginalized and oppressed certain communities, resulting in economic disadvantages that persist to this day. Mental health care is often seen as a privilege and can be expensive to access. One way to combat this inequity is through employers. They play a crucial role in eliminating barriers by providing comprehensive mental health extended benefits to their employees at no extra cost.  If you are an employer reading this and wondering how you might be able to afford to do so, reach out to Vancity and see how they can help you reach this goal.

2. Get to know your community and available options.

Society has shifted to an individual-centric approach to life and health. People used to have the support of the community to step in and help when “life happened” and they needed support. Although that has drastically decreased since colonization, there are still many ways to connect to your local communities and organizations to access various supports, especially mental health.

Did you know that there are many community-based organizations that offer low or no cost therapy Vancouver? A few community-based programs to get you started are: QMUNITY, First Nations Health Authority, Urban Native Youth Association, or Foundry. Looking for a psychiatrist? Reach out to the Vancouver General Hospital Access and Assessment Centre.  You can also use many search engines to find a private pay counsellor and see/ ask what they offer as a sliding scale. You can also look up what events are happening near you. Volunteer, give back, and build those important relationships. A huge step towards decolonizing mental health is realizing we were never meant to tackle this alone.

3. Recognize your mental health goes beyond the “mental” aspect.

Mental health is often viewed solely on someone’s individual psychological and emotional wellbeing. However, for all of us mental health is something that is more expansive and inclusive beyond only that. To work towards decolonizing mental health, it is necessary to recognize that mental health is intertwined with physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

Take a moment to think about your life through the Medicine Wheel (mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically) and notice where you are spending the majority of your time and energy. Are you “unbalanced”? Are you spending all day in your head thinking and no time moving your body? Are you feeling intense emotions and not connecting to spirit, the land, or culture? Are you usually alone and missing connection with your community and friends?  If you notice that you are over investing in some aspects and not others think about what steps you could take to have your entire system feel more balance.

Decolonizing mental health care is a necessary step towards dismantling barriers and creating a more inclusive and accessible system.

4. Evaluate your environment.

The modern-day mental health system often neglects the impact of the environment on mental well-being. Our environments go beyond the outdoors. Consider looking at work and home environment. Are there aspects that are causing you stress or unhappiness? Are you spending all your time working and not giving yourself the space to decompress and do things for fun or that you enjoy. 

As an employer or management, take steps to create policies that encourage healthy work-life balance, promote supportive and inclusive workplace policies, and encourage employees to seek a better balance in their life. As for individuals, continue to foster safe and nurturing home environments, take your vacation time, and create good boundaries around work. Together we can all encourage each other to take breaks and foster safety and wellness in the places where we spend our time.

5. Connect with the Land.

As a society, we spend so much time indoors. Many of our jobs keep us there and so do the streaming services many of us love to watch in our free time. This wasn’t always the case. Taking a moment to connect with the land you are on. Nature can have a profoundly positive effect on your wellbeing. The land wants to take care of all its living beings.

Learn about the land you spend time on and take time to learn who your host nations are on the land where you work, live, and play. What is its story? What does it have to show you? What gifts is it hoping to share? What steps can you take to build a better more consistent relationship with the land itself? Could it start with an internet search and neighborhood walk? Are there edible or medicinal plants in the neighborhood? Are there places for mindfulness practice? If it’s your nation, maybe there is a lost or hidden heritage you need to reconnect with. Once you find out more about the land and its original people and current caretakers, foster those relationships.

Empowering Change.

Decolonizing mental health care is essential to break down barriers, create inclusivity and improve access. By recognizing the historical, cultural, and systemic influences on mental health, we can reshape our approach and work towards equity. It is crucial for individuals, communities, employers, and policymakers to actively engage in this process to work towards dismantling the colonial structures that perpetuate mental health disparities. It is through these actions, both individually and collectively, that we can pave the way for a better decolonized mental health care system that empowers and supports all individuals and communities. Together, we can foster healing, resilience, and well-being for all.

Connect with Cheyenne Fox-Tree McGrath to explore more on decolonizing mental health.

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