Here’s my article that is now being featured on Blackdoctor.org on men of color and mental health:
We’ve just recognized National Mental Health and National Minority Mental Health Months this summer. This month is Suicide Awareness Month. Depression, anxiety and other disorders clearly have had a remarkable impact on society lately—both positive and negative. Social media and medical outlets are reporting on various aspects regarding mental illness regularly.
With this and more and more news of issues in the minority and black male community, I thought it prudent to address what appears to be happening. I had the honor and opportunity to interview 2 black men, who were presented four open-ended questions about mental health in our society today. Let’s see what they have to say about the importance of addressing what’s plaguing our minds and spirits in the world lately.
1. A while back, there was news of NFL player Aaron Hernandez’s reported suicideand the FB Live murder, among other instances. How important do you feel it is to address the mental health of men (and men of color) right now? Why?
Levar J, black entrepreneur/motivational DOER, husband and Dad of 2: Mental health is very ignored amongst men of color because of the perception that is shows weakness. Men naturally want to lead and appear strong and admitting that I may not be healthy mentally doesn’t line up with showing strength. On the other hand, mental health is ignored by parents when it comes to their boys. It’s always been important and even more important now that we change the perception amongst men of color. We need a new attitude of being a real man is getting help and communicating your feelings.
Ace R, black co-founder of a Brain Health research foundation and a leader in the field of HIV, single male: The behavioral health needs of men of color have not been addressed in any systematic way for men of color. High levels of stigma still remain in communities within the Black Diaspora in addition to Latino ones as well. It is imperative that we focus on supporting families that have been decimated by disproportionate incarceration, police contact, and sustained lack of community investment in regards to education and vocational development. It is short-sighted to believe that these issues can be overcome without professional support. The brain is no different than any other organ in the body. If it is injured, professionals should be engaged just like if you break your leg or have cardiac failure.
2. Stereotypically, how well are we (culturally) taking care of the mental health of black men, in particular?
Levar J: There’s definitely room for improvement. The difficulty is that were addressing mental health issues now that have been developing since birth in some cases. As a result, these men are now fathers, husbands, leaders, etc. We were taught to pray it away or deal with life…..getting help isn’t a popular option.
Ace R: Black men must overcome a historical lack of access to healthcare, especially behavioral health. With expanded access, we must address the cultural shift that comes with a division of the medical field where there is little known which has led to higher levels of misinformation and stigma. Additionally, there is a dearth of Black and/or African-American psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors in the field which would engender high levels of trust within the Community.
3. What can we do differently to help?
Levar J: Overall we need to increase the communication and advertisement of getting mental health support..all mainstream media, probing patients within primary care visits, etc.
Ace R: The AMA (American Medical Association) needs to encourage Black medical students to go into the field of psychiatry tied to tuition forgiveness in underserved areas of behavioral health for Black/African-American communities which most likely will be in urban cores. We need to share the stories of well-known Black men who are publicly addressing their behavioral health like NFL player Brandon Marshall.
The intersections of life have large consequences on behavioral health. If a man is gay or bisexual, differently-abled, and/or experiencing severe mental distress, the Black/African-American communities must make an effort to fully support and uplift those individuals and not treat them as others. Currently, I serve as a Board Director for the Avielle Foundation that looks to combat violence through brain health research, community engagement and education. It is clear that we do not know enough about the brain and the impact that social stressors may have on each of us. Just like fried food, the impact on one person will be different than in another.
All in all, mental illness is a serious matter that requires much more attention, diagnosis, treatment and equal access to care. I hope that these ideas shed some light and encourage men to get the help they need.
Stay tuned for part 2 next week.