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[Opinion] Breaking Generational Curses While Finding Healing Within Our Community

As a Black man who grew up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in the 1960s there was almost no conversation about mental health unless it was to talk about someone who was “crazy”. I remember going over to a family member’s home and there was a locked room in the back. When I asked about the locked room, the message I got was “don’t go messing back there.” I understood that someone in there had mental health issues although that’s not how it was described. We heard that they were locked in the room because they were “crazy” and we as kids should not mention it, not acknowledge it, and not talk about our family business.

A reality in my neighborhood was the legacy of alcoholism. Although there were people who were pointed to as having “mental health issues," when I look back, many of the adults I grew up around were self-medicating with alcohol. Living in a highly segregated neighborhood under the legacy of racism, although depression was not talked about or acknowledged, it seemed that most adults were depressed. But we didn’t talk about it. It just was. It was just accepted as a state of being and everyone tried to deal with their reality any way they knew how.

“We Don’t Talk About” Depression

I personally dealt with depression as a young man myself. When I was 18, the girl I thought I was going to marry passed away. Although some friends checked in on me, I was never offered counseling, support, grief therapy, or anything that would have helped me to process my grief. It wasn’t until I joined the military and found a group of supportive friends from multiple backgrounds that I was finally able to talk through the trauma that I had experienced.

The generational curse of “we don’t talk about it” often means that generation after generation learns harmful ways of dealing with their pain and sadness. The legacy of silence among Black men in the community is strong. However, the buck has to stop somewhere, and change can start with you.

If you are a man who is dealing with depression, here are some ways you can make steps toward change:

  • Look for a therapist. Finding a therapist who looks like you and who is affordable and accessible is still not always easy, but taking your mental health seriously means getting out there and looking for help.

  • Find a support group. There are also men’s support groups that can provide a space for healing and a community of men like I found through the military, who can help you feel like you are not alone and not “crazy” for feeling the way you feel.

  • Be honest with each other. Black men who are able to be real with each other and open the door for honest conversations about mental health can be the most basic, but highly effective way we can break generational curses by offering each other a new way of being in the community.

On the flip side, if you know a man who might be struggling with depression, here are some tips for how to be supportive:

  • Create a safe space. This would be a space to feel he can go to be understood, and receive words of validation. This space also provides security and allows for them to be vulnerable. He needs to be secure in knowing that anything he says will not be weaponized against him.

  • Provide support. This includes emotional support. So many men are worried about being open emotionally because they don’t know how their partners, friends, or family members will receive them. Being a man who can be emotionally supportive of his friends will look like checking in and opening the door for deeper, more real conversations.

  • Respect. Again, the idea that respect as men is dependent on being unemotional needs to change. We need to show respect for the men who are willing and brave enough to open up tough conversations. Respect the man who is unafraid to ask for help and support. That is true bravery right there. Breaking the generational curse of silence is the greatest gift a man can give his family, his partner, his children, and his community. That is worthy of true respect.

  • Be empathic and show compassion. Compassion is needed along with cultural competency. Not enough men show each other compassion. Sure, the culture of male friendship is often filled with good-natured jokes that poke fun at each other’s flaws and highlight each other’s failures, but over time, that can have a damaging effect on a man’s sense of self. We are all imperfect and have flaws and failures. Having a sense of humor is important, but so is showing compassion for each other when there is real hurt, shame, or sadness there.

  • Provide stability in all types of relationshipsincluding male friendships—can provide a lot of healing and support for those who are struggling with depression. Being willing to be a true friend means being there for the good times and the hard times. Being in a relationship with someone who is struggling with depression means being kind, caring, and understanding that mental health issues are never a choice. No one chooses to be depressed. Being a friend, partner, or loved one of a man who is depressed means acknowledging that the journey to health is not immediate. People can’t just “get over it”. However, the journey to health is easier when it’s shared. Be a solid and stable partner on the journey.

Depression is real. It is serious and yet, there is so much opportunity for healing when it is addressed. Health is the natural state of being and when we can clear the old myths and stigmas out of the way, we can change and we can heal. We can choose to stop the generational curse of silence and shame and see mental health issues for what they are - a signal to slow down and care for ourselves, each other, and bring healing back to our communities.

Photo Credit:

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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