Eb Amponsah, Coordinator, Upstream Ottawa Mental Health Community Support
Saturday 31 December 2022
Could you tell me about your childhood? Where were you born? Is there anything about your childhood that stands out for you? Helped form who you are today? Your parents, friends, school?
I was born in Ghana in a town called Cape Coast, where I grew up and moved to Accra, the capital city of Ghana. I come from a big family and my parents instilled in me the sense of community, which shaped my passion to be involved in community activities. My goal was to become a soccer player, but that dream was dashed out when a friend introduced me to table tennis. I wouldn’t say I am a super star, but I am very good at the game. This has helped me to connect with people in the community.
What is your educational background?
I hold a Master’s degree in Social Work from Carleton University and I am a member of the Ontario College of Social Workers.
What is the SAPACCY Program and what is its mandate? What programs do you offer and who is eligible for your services?
The Substance Abuse Program for African Canadian Caribbean Youth (SAPACCY) is a community-based service that promotes mental wellness, provides substance use support and is cultural affirming for young people and their families who identify as African, Caribbean or Black. The program is intended for individuals between the ages of 12 to 29 years.
The program takes into consideration the unique challenges that Black youth and their families and caregivers face with respect to anti-Black racism, criminalization, poverty, and other forms of discrimination and oppression in the mental health care and related systems, which have caused inequities in access, experience, and outcomes.
What is the referral process for your services?
Anyone concerned about youth substance use and/or mental health issues may call us. Self-referrals, referrals from family members, schools, probation services, medical professionals, agencies are also accepted.
What is the source of funding for your organization?
Upstream SAPACCY program receives funding from Ontario Health through the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).
Could you describe your role as Coordinator of the program?
As a Coordinator, I am responsible for managing clinical operations. I supervise case management and social worker staff to ensure an ongoing high standard of service delivery to the ACB youth. I also go to the community with my team to create awareness about the program to enable ACB youth to access our problem.
In addition, I perform regular scheduled supervisions with SAPACCY staff members to provide clinical support, assistance and guidance. I monitor and ensure compliance with targets and timelines, as indicated in the appropriate funding agreements through routine performance reviews. I also ensure that associated policies and procedures regarding the management of record-keeping and documentation processes and protocols are adhered to.
What challenges do you face on this job and how do you address them?
Some of the challenges we face include the absence of adequate Black social workers in Ottawa. In addition, there is a lack of positive role models who can influence Black youth.
Besides, there are some imbalances in service provision, access and activities in the Black Communities. Besides, stigma and lack of trust due to historical colonialism are challenges in the Black community. We need to address the structural inequalities that exists in Black communities.
From your experience, would you say young Black men and women are at higher risk of serious mental illness and addiction than the general population? If so, what is the likely reason for our higher incidence of mental illness?
From my experience, young Black youth are at higher risk of serious mental illness and addiction than the general population.
Black youth are likely to face discrimination in the society. They face stereotyping, poverty and are overrepresented in the welfare systems. These challenges lead to mistrust of the system, which tend to isolate them. These systemic challenges greatly impact the mental health of Black youth.
Furthermore, Black youth and their families experience unique challenges in accessing culturally appropriate mental health and substance use programs, which also contribute to the higher incidence of mental illness.
Is there anything parents can do to prevent mental illness in their children?
Parents can encourage their children to talk about how they feel. Keep communication and conversation flowing by asking questions and listening to their children. Parents can also help their children to recognize their emotions and identify what triggers their emotion. Parents can validate the feelings of their children and teach them some coping skills.
They can also introduce their children to existing mental health programs and services in the community, so that their children can be aware of them.
Is there anything the Black residents of Ottawa can do to assist and support your organization?
We would like the Black residents of Ottawa to spread the news about the SAPACCY program and how it can greatly benefit the African Caribbean Black youth.
Does Upstream Ottawa have a need for volunteers? If so, what sort of skills are you seeking for from volunteers and how does one apply?
We need volunteers who could conduct qualitative and quantitative research to show how best we can improve the wellbeing of ACB youth in Ottawa and Canada as a whole.
Looking at Ottawa’s Black community, what do you see as our biggest challenges? Crime, unemployment, mental illness, school dropouts, other? How do we overcome them?
The biggest challenge is the barrier that Black youth, and their families face in accessing culturally appropriate mental health and substance use programs in the community. In order to overcome this challenge, there is the need for more Black social workers to support the Ottawa Black community. Social workers and the Black community members can also come together to plan social programs and activities, which can enhance the mental well-being of Black youth.
In the years since you’ve lived in Ottawa, have you seen the situation of Blacks as changed for the better: more access to jobs, social inclusion etc.?
Although there are still inequalities in relation to jobs and other social inclusion for the African, Caribbean and Black communities in Ottawa, I am optimistic that things are moving slowly on the right path. An example is the fact that we can now boast of having the SAPACCY program, which helps Black youth deal with the mental health and substance misuse challenge in Ottawa.
Do you have any hobbies or pastimes?
Yes, I like playing table tennis and chess. I also like to spend time with new immigrants in Ottawa and help them to integrate well in the society.
What has been your biggest achievement and what was your biggest challenge? In your work, family life, social life, other?
My biggest achievement is the ability to contribute positively to the lives of Black youth in my community, to deal with mental health and substance use challenge and to support new immigrants to settle in Ottawa.
If you had to live your life all over again, is there anything you would do differently?
If I had to live my life all over again, I would still like to support the vulnerable populations in my community to have access to government social programs and services.
Finally, do you have a message for readers of Black Ottawa Scene?
My message for the readers is that we should collaborate to put our efforts and resources together to support the disadvantaged populations, including the Black youth, to overcome some of the barriers and challenges they face in society.