Press Release: Black Physicians’ Association of Ontario (BPAO) Hosts Mental Health Conference

Black Physicians’ Association of Ontario (BPAO) Hosts Conference Focused on Mental Health Training for Healthcare Providers to Deliver Culturally Safe and Supportive Care to Black Youth

The hybrid conference will provide comprehensive information on pathways available to Black youth and help increase comfort and confidence in screening and providing care

Toronto, ON — April 9, 2024 — The Black Physicians’ Association of Ontario (BPAO), the most established organization of Black physicians in the country, today announced it will host a hybrid mental health conference, Building and Bridging Capacity – Black Youth and Mental Health, on May 4, 2024 at the BMO Institute for Learning (IFL) in Toronto. The conference aims to provide insights for healthcare providers looking to improve their support for, and deliver culturally safe and affirming care to, Black youth patients experiencing mental health issues. As part of BPAO’s continuing professional development (CPD) series, this conference is suitable for physicians, including family doctors and psychiatrists, and allied health professionals including social workers and nurse practitioners. It is also open to medical learners. 

A 2021 study revealed that rates of depression among Black Canadian individuals were six times higher than the general population, with over 53 per cent of Black participants reporting significant experiences of racism when interacting with healthcare professionals.

“The BPAO mental health conference intends to address these disparities with respected experts in the field providing valuable insights for healthcare professionals looking to improve their support for Black youth in mental health and substance use settings,” said Dr. Mojola Omole, President of the BPAO. “The training will concentrate on providing participants with specialized strategies for handling Black youth patients facing mental health difficulties or psychosis. The BPAO works with partners on important initiatives such as Black Health Alliance’s Pathways to Care. Conference attendees will have an opportunity to learn about the project, including current challenges facing Black youth when navigating the system.  Additionally, attendees can discover the lessons learned from the Substance Abuse Program for African and Caribbean Canadian Youth (SAPACCY), a research project by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).”

According to research by Pathways to Care, Black youth in Canada are four times more likely to first enter the mental healthcare system through the emergency department — suggesting worse symptoms — than white youth. The amount of time that Black youth wait for mental health treatment is 16 months on average, which is double the amount of time for white youth. Additionally, 50 per cent of Black youth have encounters with the police on their way into the mental healthcare system. 

“When patients who are seeking help and treatment can speak with someone who understands their culture and background and can sense genuine empathy, there is an ease in their experience so they don’t have to expend extra emotional and interpretative labour explaining the context. That’s why gaining knowledge in providing culturally safe care is so important,” said Chenai Kadungure, Executive Director of the BPAO. “This CPD training helps healthcare professionals deliver culturally appropriate responses to Black patients, whether they are in crisis or are at the check-up stage of getting assistance with mental health or psychological challenges. There isn’t a good manual out there and there is a lot of work that still needs to be done. We look forward to being a part of the solution with this conference.”

Speaker and topic highlights at the Conference:

  • Dr. Kwame McKenzie, CEO of Wellesley Institute, works in research and policy to improve health and health equity in the Greater Toronto Area. A practicing psychiatrist, he holds positions as a full Professor at the University of Toronto and as the Director of Health Equity at CAMH.
    • Opening keynote

  • Dr. Amy Gajaria is an associate scientist in the Margaret and Wallace McCain Centre for Child, Youth & Family Mental Health and a psychiatrist at CAMH. She is also an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto.
    • Lessons learned from Substance Abuse Program for African and Caribbean Canadian Youth (SAPACCY) research project for primary care providers – strategies for screening and service navigation
    • Medication and self-medication: Substance use disorders and psychopharmacology tips and tricks
      • Understanding the substances youth are commonly using and the impacts of these on physical and mental health
      • Medication considerations when working with youth with concurrent disorders and complex youth
      • Trauma-informed medication prescribing and medication
      • Medication and medical care as strategies to engagement and psychotherapeutic support for those who decline other referrals

  • Dr. Samra Sahlu is an adult psychiatrist who splits her time between Saskatchewan and Toronto. Born and raised in Treaty 4 Territory, Dr. Sahlu completed her medical school and residency training in psychiatry at the University of Saskatchewan. She completed the Diversity Leadership Fellowship through the American Psychiatric Association, where she served on the Council on Minority Mental Health and Health Disparities.
    • Laying the groundwork – What do Black youth bring with them into care encounters?
      • Anti-Racism, historical context & history leading to patient mistrust, trauma/community trauma
    • Sex, gender, and intersectionality
      • Understanding the complexities of gender and sexual identities for Black youth
      • Considering how gender and sex might impact mental health for Black youth
      • Considerations related to sexual abuse
      • Thinking about sexual health and sexual health screening for Black youth; building healthy attitudes to self and sex

  • Dr. Suzanne Archie is a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences and a psychiatrist at the East Region Mental Health Clinic. She is the Equity Diversity and Inclusion Director for Post Graduate Medical Education at McMaster University. Sheilon Rogers is a Mental Health Registered Nurse at CAMH. In her current role at SAPACCY as Post Discharge Transitional Care Clinician, she focuses on working with inpatient teams, families and community resources to provide optimal care for Black Youth on their path to self-actualization.
    • Treating Black youth with serious mental illness using an EDI lens
      • Understanding signs and symptoms of psychosis in Black youth
      • Particular considerations for management
      • Assessing psychosis in the context of trauma and racism

  • Dr. Olabode Akintan is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist. His practice has been focused on acute care pediatric psychiatry in both emergency and inpatient settings both at McMaster Children’s Hospital (MCH) where he held a faculty position with McMaster University, and at Timmins and District Hospital.
    • Suicide risk assessment and trauma-informed de-escalation
      • Understanding the suicide risk assessment and specific considerations when working with Black youth
      • Approaches to youth in crisis from a trauma-informed perspective, strategies for crisis de-escalation

  • Dr. Semir Bulle is a Psychiatry resident at the University of Toronto and is the former Co-President of the Black Medical Students’ Association.
    • Closing keynote: Where do we go from here? Affirming and Strengths based approaches to caring for Black Youth
      • Models of strength and resiliencies for Black youth
      • Instilling a sense of hope and purpose, strategies to move forward

  • Tiyondah Fante-Coleman is a Researcher for the Pathways to Care Project at Black Health Alliance, and a PhD Candidate at the Dalla Lana School for Public Health (University of Toronto).
    • Pathways to Care project and current challenges in system navigation for Black youth

  • Panel discussion: Challenges and suggestions for supporting youth, including youth in crisis. Panelists include:
    • Donna Alexander – Social Worker, Adjunct Lecturer at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto and serves on the Clinical Equity & Inclusion Council at the Department of Psychiatry 
    • Paul Bailey, Executive Director, Black Health Alliance
    • Floydeen Charles-Fridal, Executive Director, Caribbean African Canadian Social Services
    • Kevin Haynes, Senior Manager, Black Health Strategy for the Provincial System Support Program (PSSP) at CAMH, and an Adjunct Lecturer in the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto

The full agenda can be found here: To register for the conference, visit 

For more information about the BPAO and to learn more about becoming a member, visit Medical students can join the association at no cost. 

Media assets can be found here:   

About the Black Physicians’ Association of Ontario

The Black Physicians’ Association of Ontario (BPAO) works for the equitable representation of the Black population in medicine and ensuring that racialized health disparities are eliminated. The BPAO was founded in 2007 following an influx of Black physicians in the province coming into practice, and registered as a not-for-profit in 2015. We are the most established organization of Black physicians in the country and have supported the establishment of nascent provincial and national organizations, including the Black Physicians of Canada (BPC and the Black Medical Students’ Association of Canada (BMSAC). The BPAO sees a province where Black Ontarians are equitably represented in the field of medicine and racialized health disparities are eliminated. For more information, visit

Media contacts: 

Anita Wong/Cindy Watson 

More Insights

Inspiring Change: Dr. Ullanda Niel’s Commitment to Accessible and Inclusive Healthcare

In honor of Neurodiversity Week and International Women’s Day, this month, we are excited to spotlight Dr. Ullanda Niel, a dedicated family physician whose compassionate work represents the essence of these celebrations. Dr. Niel’s journey into medicine, shaped by her childhood dreams and experiences, has led her to specialize in caring for individuals with intellectual disabilities, including her contributions to the Black community’s healthcare.

Read More

Interested in joining the BPAO?

Sign up to receive information on our Membership Benefits!