Blind Stigma takes aim at Black bias

By Jasminee Sahoye

Actress Stacy-Ann Buchanan is producing a documentary to enlighten Black people about mental illness.
Actress Stacy-Ann Buchanan is producing a documentary to enlighten Black people about mental illness.

A Toronto actress, model and producer wants to create awareness and hopefully bring about change through a documentary aimed at highlighting the stigma associated with mental illness among the Black community.

Stacy-Ann Buchanan’s documentary, The Blind Stigma, is expected to be completed by the end of October and screened in Toronto, hopefully at the Bell Tiff Lightbox. She wanted to have the one-hour film shown during Mental Illness Awareness Week but says she did not “want to rush it” so as to produce a quality product.

Buchanan tells The Camera that as the only Black girl in her theatre and film school, she would often hear her friends talking about having “a breakdown” but didn’t understood what it meant until she faced it and was diagnosed with anxiety, which can lead to mental illness.

Her battle with mental illness came to light when she moved to Vancouver to pursue an acting career.

“It started with a need to succeed,” she says, adding “when I wasn’t getting roles and things weren’t coming to me like I thought it would, I developed anxiety. That was the first step towards my mental illness. I didn’t know what it was … I’ve always heard my friends talking about having anxiety and they had a breakdown yesterday and I used to think they were brave to talk out aloud. You don’t talk out loud like that, it’s a shame …”

She says mental illness has been a ‘swept under the rug’ stigma that has been “creating false illusions and assumptions for a long time. Stigma is a core component of the African Canadian response to mental illness and therefore African Canadians who suffer from mental illness are less likely to seek treatment. As a result, very few studies have been done on the impact of mental illness in the Black community. The goal is to raise awareness to this very stigma,” she states on her website’s preview of the documentary.

Buchanan, of Jamaican origin, says she wants to change the stigma that comes with mental illness. “People are opening up. The reason why I’m doing it is because it’s a plague, it’s a plague on the community and it’s slowly killing us but we don’t know. We have to change it and bring awareness to it and say it’s okay to go through these things but here is the help that we can provide.”

She said she first wanted to write a book but because she is “a visual person,” she decided to produce the documentary. It will showcase stories from people who have overcome mental illness and some who are still fighting it. “It will also feature advice from a licensed psychiatrist, social worker, pastor(s) and footage from people who are still blinded by the stigma and those who are aware.”

Buchanan also included her father in the documentary. “When I went through it (illness) my father was not the kindest to me with it, coming from his training and how he dealt with it.”

And what’s this young woman’s current state of health? She says she is no longer depressed adding that she surrounds herself with positive thinking and positive people.

“My anxiety! I’m still dealing with it; it’s nowhere near what it was in 2011 or 2012 or 2013 but I do get it when I’m late. I don’t like to be late,” she says with a chuckle.