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Mental Health in the Black Community: Why the #TyreseChallenge Is Not Funny

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Unless you have been living under a rock, then you know that singer and actor Tyrese Gibson has been in the spotlight for his remarks about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and his involvement in the “Fast & Furious” spin-off. But, that is not why I am writing this article.

Within the last few weeks, the #tyresechallenge has been popular on social media after Tyrese Gibson posted a video about his custody battle with his ex-wife Norma. He sobs and says, “Please don’t take my baby,” referring to his daughter. He expressed his pain and stated he hasn’t seen his daughter in two months. He also mentioned the amount of money given to Norma per month.

According to Norma, Tyrese has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and manic behavior, but Tyrese has not confirm having a mental illness. There is a lot of back and forth about what took place, with his ex-wife saying Tyrese has a history of domestic violence and has physically abused their daughter. She is fearful the actor may abduct their daughter to Dubai, where he frequently visits, which would prevent her from bringing their “daughter home from a Muslim country,” according to an article on Bossip.

Here is the thing: people aren’t talking about the video because Tyrese is an alleged abuser — but because he showed emotion as a black man. As a black woman with a mental illness, I did not see anything funny about a black man expressing his pain. I may not agree with him posting a video on social media — and obviously he doesn’t deserve to be defended for abuse allegations — but the reaction highlights a bigger problem about how mental health is treated in the black community.

The Tyrese challenge reveals how blacks view mental health and illness.

Here are three reasons why the Tyrese challenge is not funny:

1. Blacks see mental illness as a weakness which prevents many of us from seeking treatment.

An article on The Huffington Post written by Dr. Erlanger Turner, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychology at the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) stated that black men as a group often experience significant amounts of psychological stress as a result of discrimination, social and economic challenges, and racial injustice. Unfortunately, black men may avoid seeking mental health treatment due to stigma, mistrust of providers or lack of culturally-informed care.

2. Many of us still choose not to believe mental illness is real or view it as not as serious as a physical illness.

We are quick to accept AIDS, diabetes and even cancer because they are illnesses you may be able to see physically. If we viewed all illness as equal and stopped comparing sickness, we would not laugh at Tyrese’s pain. We would see how damaging the custody battle is on his mental health, abuse allegations aside, and if he has a mental illness, we would know how triggering the experience can be.

3. A black man crying is not strong; he is soft.

That is why we say things like “man up and stop crying like a girl” to our sons. We must stop saying comments like this to our boys because it teaches them to mask their pain. They are less likely to express themselves because of fear of judgment and ridicule.

I encourage everyone to be mindful before you participate in something that makes fun of someone’s else pain. The challenges of life impact all of us differently. Mental health must be taken seriously because not only does it impact your brain, it also takes a toll on your body and puts you at risk for developing a mental illness. Remember that black minds matter!

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 reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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Photo by Caleb George on Unsplash

Originally published: November 14, 2017
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