Pursuit of Happiness: Mental Health & the Black Male

Taking a cursory look at the song lyrics of some of today’s musical artists, it is clear to see that many of them are coming from a darker place than we would expect, and have a deeper purpose than just entertainment.

Mental illness is a topic frequently alluded to by many in the rap & hip-hop industries, both of which are heavily comprised of black males. The presence of mental illness in this population isn’t a secret, but at the same time, it isn’t something that we seriously speak on. However, a recent revelation on the Internet could be the first step to turning that around.

Scott Mescudi, better known as Kid Cudi, a black rapper from Cleveland, Ohio, checked himself into rehab on October 4th, 2016. “I am not at peace . . . I simply am a damaged human swimming in a pool of emotions everyday of my life,” writes the 32 year-old on his Facebook letter to his fans, speaking on his battle with depression and suicide. This revelation resonated, prompting a large and very important conversation about mental health and its impact on the black community.

The national average in 2014 for any mental illness in black adults was 16.3%, which translates to over 7 million people. In many black cultures, mental illness is seen as a myth, especially to older members of these communities. Symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental conditions are frequently chalked up to a number of essentially unrelated causes.

A sixteen year-old black female student at a local high school said, “I think that for a lot of people in the black community, they do not even think there’s such a thing as a mental illness.” She continued, “A lot of people think that [one should] just pray. Some people say you’re just making it up.”These views stem from pure ignorance which, after being passed down for so many generations, can clearly be seen in today’s youth.

A sixteen year-old black male student, when asked what he would constitute as a mental illness, replied “AIDS.” Whether in jest or in complete honesty, this comment shows both the lack of knowledge some teens have about mental health, and just how much its seriousness is taken with a grain of salt.

The difference in mental health knowledge between black female and male adolescents speaks volumes; the females are more open to discussing and becoming informed about the issue of mental illness, while the males know very little to nothing about it. This could easily translate into males with one of these illnesses hesitating to seek help. In fact, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, only 6.6% of black males, compared to the 10.3% of black females, utilize mental health services available to them; that’s a little over half as often as their white counterparts. On top of that, according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, suicide is the third leading cause of death among black males, ages 15 through 24.

As stated by the news outlet Mic, “When [given] actual facts about [mental health], however, it becomes clear that [it] is a serious issue for black people too. “ The clear presence of systemic racism today makes finding adequate employment opportunities tough for minorities. That being said, the Kaiser Family Foundation found blacks to have the highest poverty rate compared to all other racial groups–24%. According to the Office of Minority Health, those living below the poverty line are three times as likely to report psychological distress than those living well enough above it.

The lack of economic stability in a large chunk of the black community makes getting professional help–as much as it may be wanted–hard to access. For those who are able to get help, the influence of racism and microaggressions in these institutions make it difficult to receive the proper help. Only 2% of the members of the American Psychological Association are black, making it tough for mentally ill black victims to find a professional that relates to them.

Mescudi’s letter sparked dialogue on social media about mental health in the black community–especially among its males. Many heavy stigmas already surround men in general, and the hypermasculinity associated with black men intensifies those stigmas tenfold.

“In the black male community, a lot of the concern is on masculinity. The stronger you are, the more masculine you are.” said the female student. “If [a black male is] struggling with depression, people are gonna say, ‘Oh, I’m weak. Why am I sad? Why can’t I just be happy?’ . . . you’re gonna have too much shame to tell your friends or tell your family.”

The hashtag “#YouGoodMan,” created by Twitter users Dayna Lynn Nuckolls (@DanaLynnNuckolls) and @TheCosby, trended on the site following the release of Mescudi’s letter. Nuckolls, during an interview with BlackDoctor.org, stated that she aims to raise her four year-old son by “empowering him to honor his emotions, name his feelings, and develop relationships with other men that area safe spaces for vulnerability.”

Thousands of black men continued to fill the hashtag with their experiences, as well as people of various other races and genders offering support and reassuring those that are struggling that it is okay to seek out any help that they may need.

The hashtag creators, and others inspired by the trending topic, have been planning events and seminars, providing education on mental wellness, on top of more personal and intimate opportunities for black men to let go of their repressed emotions and heal with the support of those who are walking in the same shoes as them. Step by step, black males all over are moving past the false “I’m good” narrative, and towards the hopeful “I will be.”

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