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[Opinion] Black Men's Depression Epidemic is Killing Us

We Need to Talk About the Men's Depression Epidemic...

After enduring the pandemic of the last few years, the last thing you may be interested in hearing about right now is this: There is a silent epidemic happening right now, and it’s killing Black men. What is this new epidemic, you might be wondering… and do you need to run out for more masks and sanitizer?

Well, it’s not a new epidemic actually, but it is getting worse. What’s killing Black men is loneliness and depression. At the end of last year, everyone was shocked by the news that Stephen Boss, better known as “tWitch”, a man who for millions of viewers represented the image of a smiling, happy, healthy man, suddenly took his own life.

The news sent shockwaves through numerous communities. Celebrities tweeted condolences to his family, long-time viewers of The Ellen Show, which the dancer also served as an executive producer, posted reflections on how he had impacted their lives, and social media exploded with tributes to tWitch and his legacy. Some spoke about the dangers of trusting the facade of social media and the need to reach out to “check on your friends.”

After such a tragedy occurs, the unfortunate pattern tends to be the outpouring of thoughts, prayers, and the regretful phrase, “if only we would have known.” But we do know.

We know there is a crisis among the community of Black men. We know there are men all across this country who are suffering in silence. Men are sick, and they are dying. The question is, do we care? In the latest stats on suicide in America (2020), the only two groups in the country to have an increase in rates of suicide were Black and native men.

What are we doing as a culture to help our depressed men?

Black men are at the same risk for depression as men of other races, but they are less likely to seek out mental health help. They are also less likely to remain in therapy or treatment for depression.

Some of the barriers to mental health in the Black community include:

A deep distrust of the medical community - which makes sense. The medical community has consistently downplayed and dismissed the concerns of Black people in pain. It can be tough to find a clinician who you feel safe with and understood by.

Systemic barriers in the education system can make it difficult to find a therapist who looks like you and understands the unique stressors of Black men on a personal level. However, Black male therapists are out there and they are making waves.

There is also a model of masculinity in Black culture that values silence on emotional issues and denial of the experiences of stress, overwhelm, trauma, and pain that men are facing. We need to talk about the high level of stigma Black men face from their own community when seeking mental health help.

Black men are faced with constant messages of “man up,” “be tough,” “stay strong,” and encouraged not to let their cracks show. The model of manhood that prides “hard” over honest, is a model of manhood that is shaming men into silent graves. The model of masculinity that values power over emotions rather than being empowered to be with your emotions is keeping men stuck in a cycle of depression and anger.

The stoicism, unwillingness to talk about emotions, and cultural resistance to seeking mental health help is a legacy of silence about our trauma that has been passed down for generations. It no longer serves the needs of the community.

We need to stop the narrative that suffering in silence or ignoring the signs that our brothers are not alright is just “what we do.” Because it is not fixing those problems. It’s just keeping men isolated and alone in their pain. It forces them to carry that burden alone.

Allowing men to reach out for help and admit when they are struggling with depression without shame will keep men healthy and alive. We need to change the narrative around what strength in men looks like.

Some strong men who are taking the lead in the conversation on the importance of having a mental strength and wellness routine are Kid Cudi, LeBron James, Barack Obama, Michael B. Jordan, Big Sean, Brandon Marshall, Jay-Z, Charlamagne Tha God, Big Sean and many others.

These Black leaders who continue to show their strength by being open about their journeys to therapy, self-improvement, self-love, self-acceptance, self-compassion and overall mental wellness are already making powerful changes in the way society views masculinity and strength.

Strength can mean bravery in having an honest conversation with a friend about depression.

Strength can be reaching out to help a brother in need.

Strength can be admitting that you are the brother in need.

Strength looks like courage in reaching out for professional help from a therapist.

Strength looks like admitting that you are in pain and no longer willing to suffer in silence.

Strength can be asking for support when you are having a dark night of the soul.

Strength can look like being a part of breaking the stigma against seeking mental health help.

Black men are often capitalized on and fetishized by white culture for their portrayal and models of masculinity. However, there is an opportunity for Black men to take the lead in this movement toward redefining, reclaiming and rebuilding a healthier model of masculinity.

Black men can model healthy fatherhood, healthy partnerships, and foster a healthy connected brotherhood as the new model of strength and power as men. Black men have already set the standard on masculinity in so many other ways, but this is the one that will save lives, families and the community as a whole.

About the Authors:

Kristal DeSantis is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with specializations in trauma, sex therapy, couples, and mens' mental health issues. Creator of the STRONG Relationship Therapy Model of trauma-informed couples therapy. Certified clinical trauma professional with training in EMDR, complex ptsd, and relational trauma in first responders, LEOs, and Veterans. Kristal has previously written for The Good Men Project, Austin Fit and Voyage Austin. Her first book, STRONG: A Relationship Field Guide For the Modern Man releases this February.

Ulysses Lee Moore PHD, LPC, CRC Counseling Provider, 1SG, Ret., has been in the helping profession for more than 18 years and serves as the Director of The Hope Project of Central Texas, an organization established in 2016 made up of mental health professionals that provides the tools needed for individuals and families to live and thrive together in their communities. Moore has previously worked for Child Protective Services, the Texas state agency for mental health and developmental disabilities, State and Federal Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies as a Counselor.

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