Working to improve access to mental health services for Black youth in Hamilton

A Black youth sitting looking out a window

Ingrid Waldron and a team of researchers, research assistants and community partners are working to make mental health services in Hamilton better for Black youth, one interview at a time.

Earlier this year Waldron, the HOPE Chair in Peace and Health in the Faculty of Humanities, teamed up with Empowerment Squared, a Hamilton organization that offers programs and services for newcomer, racialized and marginalized communities.

“We’re looking to understand Black youth’s perceptions about mental illness, their perception about seeking help, how they seek help, and what the results of that help-seeking are,” Waldron explains.

Supported by funding from the Medavie Health Foundation, Balsam Foundation, Echo Foundation and a Strategic Excellence and Equity in Recruitment and Retention (STEER/R) grant from McMaster, Waldron and her partners will work with the community to develop a vision for addressing gaps in mental health policy, programs and services.

“Ultimately, we’re hoping to use the study findings to inform mental health policy that is much more culturally responsive, because many of these youth don’t know where to go,” Waldron says.

So far, Waldron and her team have interviewed 38 Black youth who represent the diversity of the Black community in Hamilton, with a range of sexual orientations, gender identities, immigration status, disabilities, ages and cultural backgrounds. Their goal is to interview 50 youth in total.

One thing Waldron is particularly interested in exploring are different attitudes within the community towards mental illness: Is prayer enough to make someone better? Is mental illness a punishment for doing something wrong? Is using medication to treat mental illness just a harmful “Western” idea?

“The project is about getting a sense of people’s wider perceptions – what does your family say about mental health? What do they believe?” says Waldron. “What do they say about where you should seek help, and how you should seek help? Is what’s available in line with your culture and your family?

“We don’t want to scoff at belief systems – we want to hear about them. And then we want there to be systemic change that’s informed by what we’ve found out.”

An important part of that change – and Waldron’s work generally – is sharing the study results with the community, and hearing from them about how they’d like things to be different. In fact, Waldron and her team will be presenting their preliminary study findings, not in an academic journal – although that may come later – but at a community event at Empowerment Squared, where people will be encouraged to share their vision for addressing shortfalls in the city’s mental health system.

“All my research projects are action oriented. I’m happy to remain connected to people and not to walk away once the studies are over and find ways that my recommendations could inform what’s being done in the long term,” Waldron says. “If you parachute in, then leave, people won’t trust you. You have to engender trust, and that means having real relationships. You don’t disappear.”

You can join Waldron and her research team at Empowerment Squared’s east Hamilton office (26 Arrowsmith Road) on Friday, October 27 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, email Ingrid Waldron at

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