The stigma around mental health in the black man is nothing new. Not only are the causes of mental health biological, outside socio-economic factors contribute. These include, the structure of the American government, oppressive history of the slave trade, religion, lack of access to healthcare, and urban planning and zoning. Mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and PTSD have been proven to specifically affect black men more than their white counterparts.
Although recently, conversations around mental health in the black community have improved by way of tragedy, such as the deaths of Lee Thompson Young and Don Cornelius. These deaths have served as openers to the conversation and have allowed individuals not to feel ashamed of their thoughts and feelings.
30-year-old Javier Atkinson of San Bernardino believes that “black people don’t really understand mental health because they don’t know any better.” He also attributes the lack of understanding due to the nature vs. nurture argument; essentially, you’re a product of your environment. You cannot expect “8 and 9 year old black boys to see people killed in front of them and expect them to be functioning people in society. No one speaks on those types of things.”
An additional stigma is the illusion that suffering from mental health issues is a sign of weakness. Black men are portrayed in the black community as the protector and provider, and showing weakness is not in the rulebook. Jason Hardison of Akron, Ohio, remembers when he would visit the barbershop and how the men would come together to hang out. But stated, “if another man ever mentioned that he went to therapy or spoke to a therapist because of his thoughts or feelings, the guys in the shop would definitely make fun of him.” “Why?”, I asked. He stated, “Because going to therapy would make him appear lame, crazy or weak.” Alternative remedies such as yoga or meditation are also looked down upon.
Josh Thompson of Los Angeles, California, shared that last year he went to see a therapist because he felt he was going down the wrong path in life. As a type A personality and workaholic, he found himself partying and drinking more. After speaking with a professional, they came to a conclusion together that his behavior was rooted in some unresolved issues from childhood. “It all starts at home and parents being able to talk to their kids about how they feel and what’s going on in their lives. It’s important for parents to open up to their children,” said Josh.
Most recently musical genius Kanye West dropped his album “Ye” with a statement on the cover, “I hate being bipolar, it’s awesome,” confirming his bipolar diagnosis. Additional celebrities have come forward to discuss their mental health issues, such as musical artists Kid Cudi, Kehlani, and actress Jennifer Lewis.
At the end of the day, brothers and sisters, let’s take care of each other and ourselves. We are all we have.
If you’re having thoughts of suicide or difficulty expressing yourself, reach out to a professional via The Association of Black Psychologists directory; talk to a friend; read self help books; meditate or exercise.
Tiffany Garcia is a blogger for CSUITEMUSIC.
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