Denise Barrett-Hubbard tackles Black mental health on an international scale

Executive director of the World Black Mental Health Organization (WBMHO), a 24-hour crisis line

By Lincoln DePradine

Denise Barrett Hubbard

In communities of people of African descent – in Canada and elsewhere – mental health remains minimally discussed and many are reluctant to seek help for mental health-related problems, including stress and depression.

Denise Barrett-Hubbard is among some that are trying to change the attitude and approach to dealing with mental health issues. She’s executive director of the World Black Mental Health Organization (WBMHO), a 24-hour crisis line.

“I started it as a platform to make things better; to cater to Black mental health all around the world,’’ Barrett-Hubbard said in an interview.

“I’m giving a more holistic look to Black mental health. You can be anywhere in the world and get counselling.’’

Barrett-Hubbard, a mother and grandmother, is an experienced expert in stress management and certified to the Canadian Mental Health Association as an Ontario psychological health and safety advisor.

She’s also a certified anti-money laundering specialist, fraud intelligence officer and social justice entrepreneur. 

Her work with the World Black Mental Health Organization, which was founded in 2019, is combined with other initiatives. Barrett-Hubbard engages in humanity outreach with at-risk children through what’s known as “Project Shadow’’.

It’s a collaborative undertaking of Scotiabank, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, and FINTRAC – the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada – that attempts to track and prevent modern slavery and human trafficking. “I’m an advocate in that area as well,’’ Barrett-Hubbard told The Caribbean Camera.

“As a financial crime investigator, I look for indications of what might look like modern slavery transactions. It’s taking it from the back-end, which is following the money.’’

Barrett-Hubbard said her future plans include delivering educational programs on modern slavery and human trafficking to child protection agencies in countries overseas, such as in the Caribbean.

She related watching her Guyanese-born mother and grandmother afflicted by dementia, and she also brings to the WBMHO her personal experience.

“Mental health affected me in a very profound way. I was a client who experienced caregiver burnout and struggled with anxiety, depression, discrimination,’’ she said.

The WBMHO, which utilizes “experienced and passionate counsellors, educators, policy advisors, skilled mediators and advocates’’, offers “comprehensive services’’ such as crisis counselling, as well as counselling for children, sexual assault seniors and members of the LGBTQ2 community, Barrett-Hubbard said.

There are also “mental health crisis lines for frontline workers and that part is in memory of my mom. She was a very hardworking personal support worker,’’ said Barrett-Hubbard.

She conceded that for many Black people, mental health is a taboo subject.

“I grew up believing that getting help was just praying; you’re supposed to blacken your knees and go to church and everything is going to be okay – God is going to take care of it. Or, you need to get an exorcism,’’ she said.

“So, when I started the World Black Mental Health Organization, I got a lot of push back from some people. But, when you’re moved to do something from your heart, you just move to do it and, hence, this was born and there is a need for it.’’

The need is critical, particularly with the mental health pressures some have had to face during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Barrett-Hubbard.

“What getting help looks like is very different for people of colour and usually there is a socio-economic factor to how people are living and what they’re experiencing,’’ she said.

“What we do is a 24-hour global crisis line. Why I thought 24 hours? There’s always a need. And why I thought global? It’s because I began to see similarities in people and families, whether here, in Guyana or Trinidad and Tobago or Grenada.’’

Barrett-Hubbard encouraged people, who may have mental problems, to seek assistance that “could be simply helping you to calm down, referring you out to another program or service, or something that will be beneficial’’.

For those who want to connect with WBMHO, the organization can be reached at www.worldblackmentalhealthorganization.com and through its 1 800 crisis counselling number.

“If you want to talk to someone about what you’re going through, give us a call. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain,’’ Barrett-Hubbard said.