“I am healing when my community is healing”
Muna Mohamed , Fourth year Public Affairs and Policy Management student at Carleton University. Photo: Muna Mohamed
Muna, one of four other participants in a mental health panel put on as part of Thrive week, shared her experiences with mental health and how her work in advocacy and activism helped to make her and her community strong at the same time, on October 5 at Carleton University.
What kind of activism are you involved with and why is it important to you?
My activism has kind of evolved since I got engaged in community mobilizing at the age of 16. I started off as a women’s rights advocate, moved into mental health advocacy and now I focus primarily on the perils of the black community, specifically black youth under state sanctioned violence and other forms of institutionalized racism. I say that while acknowledging the way my women’s rights activism and mental health activism pours into my work with anti-black racism. I believe all forms of my activism, past and present shape who I am and who I am becoming.
What inspired you to get involved with the organizations or groups you are a part of?
I think what got me to be involved with black community mobilizing was my recognition that I felt like my story kept on being erased. When I would talk to people about the complexity of my identity and how my culture is both Canadian and Ethiopian, I found that there wasn’t a space for my story. The only story out there on being black was an American one. The same feeling of erasure came across when I shared my struggle with anxiety and how it is shaped by my identity as a black woman. That part of my story was erased from mental health discussions because it was complex and I came from a community that has been actively excluded by the mental health field.
Was there a defining event or moment where you realized that your work with activism was giving you strength to get better and improve your own mental health?
I don’t think there was a defining moment because my mental illness was shaping as my community work was shaping as well. I remember going to a vigil in 2015 following the death of a black man in the United States. The vigil was taking place in front of the US embassy and only had about 40 attendees. There was a moment when a black woman who I didn’t know put her hand on my back as I was crying. It was simple, but it’s in moments like that that I’m reminded that my anger or sadness, which are emotions that shape my anxiety and my worry, are emotions that I share with a community.
My community has primarily helped me in my resiliency. Now in mental health, resiliency is often framed as the ability for one person to recover or bounce back from a mental health challenge. Community made me understand how resiliency can be experienced and built by a group, not just an individual. It’s in moments where I share these emotions of grief and the willingness to heal with my community that I’m reminded that my personal resilience is shaped and powered by the resilience of them and the fact that my black- immigrant community has always been resilient in the face of adversity. My shaping of resiliency in the face of my anxiety has become a team effort taken by my community. I now don’t distinguish between personal resiliency and community resiliency. I am healing when my community is healing.
If you could offer any words of advice to someone struggling with mental illness, what would you tell them?
I think I would tell them that their story is different from the next persons and that doesn’t make it any less valid. I would tell them that the route to recovery or living with a mental illness are vast in possibilities and mechanisms. And that there is a community for everyone. Mine happened to be routed in my identity, yours or someone else’s may be routed in arts, sports etc. It looks different for many but is important regardless of the context. I would tell them that self-reflection will help you not only in recovering or living with your mental health, but it’s a skill that helps build resiliency and power within yourself, which translates onto so many different aspects of your life.