We Need to Make It OK for Black Men to Talk About Their Mental Health
Mental health in the black community is something that can easily go unchecked. When it comes to mental health, people tend to suffer in silence. I think this applies heavily to black men.
Years of racial oppression and the inability to react or speak on an emotional level left many black men conditioned to suppress their emotions. Not long ago, as a black person in America, every day was psychological torture. You were born into a world where you were considered “less than” and reminded of it constantly. I feel that generation had to form a tough exterior and put mental and emotional well-being on the back burner just to survive. That mentality, for the most part, has been passed down from generation to generation. We’re taught that we must be tough because the world is 10 times tougher. You grow up and are taught that there are people who don’t like you because you are you. It is tough to swallow, but you have to come to terms with it quickly
In my personal experience with mental illness, I’ve been very blessed. My parents were proactive after I first told them how I felt and did everything in their power to get me the help I needed for my depression and anxiety. However, for many in the black community, mental health is not spoken of and/or could be passed off as something minimal or nonexistent. Also, in the time we are in now, many people are losing healthcare, and it is becoming harder to get assistance for mental illness. Mental health should be thought of in the same way as a physical disease and treated with as much severity and monitoring.
An example of something I think goes unchecked for black men (myself for sure) is processing the senseless murders that occur by those who take an oath to protect and serve. I feel a wave of fear and anxiety wash over me when I see a police officer. I know there are good cops out there, but my heart stops when I’m driving and see the flashing red and blue lights out of the corner of my eye. Thankfully, so far I’ve only encountered cops who were professional and treated me with fairness. However, I know there are people in this world who harbor hate in their hearts. This fear and anxiety is not just reserved for the black man but extends to family. I know my mother was worried about me when I toured the country during the election. She’s not just worried about my general safety but filled with the same anxiety that washes over me. I know there are countless other family members who fear for the everyday safety of their loved ones. In the world we live in, they fear for their lives and safety when it comes to interaction with bad police and the domestic terrorists who now have decided to remove their hoods and claim the “values” of a country they do not understand. That is a lot of unrest and anxiety for a people to feel without release and relief.
I’m glad to see the topic of mental health and self-care pop up more and more in the black community and in general. I’m happy to see the big artists like Kid Cudi and Jay Z speak out on mental health and the importance of reaching out and not being afraid to ask for help. I respect every artist speaking out on this issue. The more we talk about these things as casually as we do a check up at the doctor, the easier it becomes for something like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or any mental illness to break out of the realm of taboo discussion and become more understood.
For me, self-care is by no means a new topic, but it is something I’ve only recently started putting into practice. I’ve seen a therapist for years and have even been hospitalized for my depression and anxiety. Both teach the importance of learning how to love yourself and take care of your mental health using different types of psychotherapy and/or medication. They also teach you to reach out to close ones (friends and family) when you need help and to find the time to do the things you love. For me, this means making music. It is something I can do to release my feelings and say how I feel. Music took me in at an extremely tough time in my life and was one of my coping mechanisms.
Putting the ideas of modern psychology into practice on a wide scale, however, will require more education. Education is really the first step in changing the perception of mental health in the black community. I urge more black artists, young and old, to speak out about it. We have lost a lot of black artists and individuals to suicide because of what I believe are remnants of the tough exterior and back burner mentality for mental health passed on by our ancestors. Today, racial tensions and unrest are high and so is anxiety in the black community. I don’t want mental health to be overlooked or brushed aside in conversation. I want to live in a world where we can all speak openly about the things we are dealing with.
Losing someone to mental illness is a pain too great and a cost too high to pay to avoid discussion. Recently, I found out what it feels like to lose someone close to mental illness. I also know what it is like to be on the other side. I’ve felt the weight of depression and have lived with the cyclical thoughts that come with the idea of suicide. Thankfully, I stuck around. However, when I was suffering, I saw no hope, no light at the end of the tunnel. People would always make remarks like, “It’s always darkest before the dawn,” and I gave statements like these no credence. I can say today, however, that these words are true. Of all the days you have in this world, they can’t all be terrible. If I’d left this world, I wouldn’t be living out my dreams right now: making music full time and seeing the world. I would have cut my life short. Remember that there is always more to your story. To those in pain, I want you to know there is hope. Start or continue to share your feelings. Find someone you can trust to confide in. To those who haven’t experienced mental health problems first-hand, listen to others. Learn more about what people go through and be that shoulder to lean on.
I’d really like to thank The Mighty for allowing me to voice my thoughts on this sensitive topic. I hope in doing so, someone can read this and find solace. Please, remember that you are not alone and that you are loved.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
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