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Staff Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Lew Golding

Sometimes it’s something as subtle as a painting on the wall that can impede clients from engaging in a service, says Lew Golding, Manager of CAMH’s Substance Abuse Program for African Canadian and Caribbean Youth (SAPACCY).

He shares his own experience during his job interview at CAMH 10 ½ years ago. In the nicely-decorated area where the interview was held, there was a mural on the wall depicting a boy and girl and their dog playing on the green grass in the front yard. The mom and dad were standing on the front porch all behind a white picket fence.

“I come from a history where that image tells me you're not one of us,” he says. “It says this is the ideal family and there is no one like me here.”

When he finally told his colleagues about that experience, some staff were taken aback because for them the image represented safety, security and family. Lew helped his colleagues understand that for people who come from a history of colonialism, the white picket fence represents a barrier to inclusion.

Today when clients walk into Lew’s office, they see décor that is reflective of their heritage as is the programming that makes SAPACCY an inviting place for Black youth and their families.

Lew Golding
SAPACCY Manager Lew Golding

“We attend to the broader social determinants of health when working with youth in order to facilitate engagement with treatment,” Lew says. Staff assess their clients’ housing challenges, social needs, psychiatric and medical needs and facilitate links to service providers both in the community and at CAMH. While approximately 50 per cent of their clients come to CAMH, staff also meet with them in the community.

The SAPACCY staff, who reflect the diversity within the Black community, are skilled at working with clients with substance use behaviours and psychiatric challenges (60 per cent now have concurrent disorders) while interweaving the cultural nuances that show they understand and are able to travel the course of recovery with them.

SAPACCY team Leonard Edwards, Donna Alexander and Lew. (Missing from photo: Ayodele Okpoye)

“Racism does not necessarily have to be a specific topic of conversation because from the first point of engagement with our service they are dealing with a Black person and that carries through each interaction they have in the service,” he says.

Each staff member also serves as a point person on a specific issue. One staff member advises his colleagues about working with people of different backgrounds, for example Somalia or the Caribbean. Another staff person advises around women’s issues and facilitates the family group, consisting mostly of mothers. Another staff member works with the LGBT population. “We know this is a significantly underserved group because of attitudes and stigmas related to LGBT in the history of Black individuals and families,” Lew says.

Leonard Edwards
Leonard Edwards works with LGBT youth.

One challenge staff contend with is the increasing criminalization of Black youth for possessing a small amount of marijuana. “It's not unusual for us to begin some work with the young person and not see or hear from them for about six to eight months because they have been locked up,” he says. Staff try to maintain the connection with the client, although they can have difficulty accessing young people while they are incarcerated.

Another concern is that some service providers still view cannabis as harmless despite increased warnings of connection between its use among some youth and the onset of psychosis or schizophrenia. SAPACCY staff work at educating the community about the latest research findings on the risks of cannabis use among young people whenever possible. 

Overall, Lew says SAPACCY has developed a good name in the community. “We have successfully linked to people who would never travel out of their neighborhoods to come into an institution,” Lew says. 

He adds, “I really like that CAMH has embraced the language and framework of health equity. It means there are now concerted efforts to be responsive to barriers that impede a person's ability to have access to services that everyone else has. I think it's opened some doors.”

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