Photography provided by PAVE UW-Madison
I have been itching to touch on this subject for some time now. Lately, I have noticed so many different mental health awareness events and websites and that sort of thing increase online and offline which is amazing overall for more awareness on this subject, but I also noticed that they mainly seem to only cater to the issues dealing with women and mental health awareness for some reason. Yes, I understand women go through a lot in life from bearing children, to taking care of the household, to working full time, pressure to be independent, educated and so much more. There is a whole host of weight placed on a woman’s shoulders daily ….. but what about the men? Really, specifically, what about the African American men in this country whom are suffering silently?
To this day, 26 years of life, I don’t believe I have ever personally seen a man of color stand up fully and openly discuss and talk about his mental health issues he may be going through. Of course this doesn’t apply to all African American men, but where I am personally in the South of the United States this is sort of openness seems to be very frowned upon for men, especially black men. Down here in the South, you don’t see too many men festering in their problems or even showing that they are going through something directly. The only times you may notice that a problem is apparent is when that particular male begins to lash out in a negative way affecting either others around him or himself directly.
I believe that it is time for us all to take some time out to address the mental health effects on our brothers right now.
Men are often taught that they should be silent about pretty much everything that pertains to their mental state of mind. Men, in general, are often taught that they must be tough at all times no matter what. That they can not even shed a tear about anything, basically like they have to be robots, or emotionless. Now that’s just men in general….black men have to do this as well but at a much harsher rate than any other race of this country. Think about it, I know you’ve heard someone in your childhood [if you’re a black man reading this] tell you that just based off of the color of your skin you will have to work twice as hard to get anywhere in life compared to other men of other races in this country. This is no different when it comes to a black man’s mental state of mind. That black man may be majorly depressed, even suicidal and he is automatically expected to suck it up, or man up, far quicker than anyone else and move on with life.
Earlier this year, I ran across this picture on instagram that states, “Male suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50.” Not heart disease. Not car accidents. Not cancer. But men deliberately and intentionally ending their own lives because of this concept of always toughing things out and that phrase, man up. On top of that, I came across an article that states African Americans have the highest rates of mental illnesses in this country right now. Now this has probably changed over time this year, I would hope so anyways, but with that information alone I wondered why this is? Is it the women of color who are going through more things mentally right now, or is the men of color who are silently hurting? After further research, I found out that it is in fact the men of color who are driving these rates of mental health illnesses up in the African American community. Our brothers, uncles, dads, etc. are basically being ignored right now when it comes to improving their state of mind and there are a number of factors that have played huge parts in this epidemic:
- The Prison System – African Americans are 6 times more likely to be incarcerated quicker and more than any other race in this nation. For example, in Washington D.C. it is expected that three out of four African American males will serve time at some point in their lives, all of which will come from the poorest neighborhoods of our nation’s capital. African American men in particular, end up in prison during their 20’s and 30’s more often than any other time after making bad decisions in life due to a number of different factors apart of their environments while growing up. You have some that have lived a complete life of poverty and have done some things to simply survive and get out, only for it to have back fired on them before they could make it out. Some may have been around the wrong people, being associated with gangs, other streams of violence while younger, and even drug usage which led them to ending up in jail for 20-30 years of their lives. But there is no record linking drug crimes to the alarming amounts of African American men being incarcerated. In fact, white males have been proven to engage in illegal drug crimes more than black males, yet most prisons have predominantly men of color in them for those same drug crimes. Another disturbing fact is that some young African American males have parents whom have also been incarcerated at some time in their lives as well. According to Defy Ventures, more than half of all US adults in prison right now are parents to at least one child under the age of 18. Just imagine yourself in a young black boy’s shoes whose father, or even mother, have been locked up. This leads to a life of trauma, and no stability in that particular household, which often leads that same boy who watched his parents behind bars end up in jail himself later on in life. This may also lead that same boy to living in poverty because he no longer has the stability of both of his parents to push forward in life, repeating the cycle of incarceration for that particular family for generations to come. We all know that the prison system is there as a punishment for those who do wrong, but I always wondered what happens to the men who do their time and leave prison? Does the prison system actually help them towards doing and being better, or does it just make their situation worse than what it already is? Do these black men have the ability and opportunity to go back home and fix what needs to be fixed for their families? According to The National Institute of Justice, 60% of the prisoners released and out in the general public are currently unemployed. Between 15% – 27% of prisoners released often times end up in homeless shelters overall. This is incredibly terrible on the black community as most targets for police are African American men in this country, there’s no debate here on that. Closely behind that would be Latino/Hispanic men. Now ask yourself again, does the prison system help these men to become better and learn from their mistakes overall once they have served their time…..or is it another way for the cycle to repeat itself for generations to come? Does prison really help mentally to get African American men back on the right track of life?
- Lack of Information & Misunderstandings – Often times the mental health issues of African American men go unnoticed and looked over because there is not enough information on this health matter in the African American community. To be honest, I knew about depression during middle and high school, of course I knew what suicide was but I had no idea what exactly a mental health illness was until I got to college. At first I was ashamed to admit that as I felt stupid or behind in life by not knowing what that was for almost 20 years of my life. But it made me think, if I myself are truly just now learning about this health issue epidemic, I can only imagine the millions more who still don’t in their 30’s and 40’s and even 50’s apart of the African American community. For me, things came as sort of a privilege and blessing because I was able to attend a four year university, whereas with others especially a lot of African American men, they don’t have these resources at hand. The phrase mental health illness are never even spoken or brought up period because there are just not enough resources and people bringing awareness to the matter at hand. With black men they may result to violence and anger in order to deal with their mental health problems because they just simply don’t know what it is and don’t know what’s going on. It is simply overlooked as he’s just angry, not really an attempt to ask why he is angry.
- Domestic Violence – As mentioned in number 2, African American men sometimes opt towards violence and anger to deal with their mental conditions. One prime example of this I can remember which matches up perfect with this topic was the scene from For Colored Girls where the war veteran came home to his wife and two children, a little boy and a little girl. I’m assuming he was either discharged or retired from his time spent overseas but he began to drink heavily and was suffering from a form of PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder which is a mental illness. This led him to become domestically violent against his wife, often times beating her if you watched the movie before. Ultimately though, one day he snapped because he was unemployed and couldn’t find work good enough to support his family plus on top of that his drinking picked up dramatically. This led him to drop his two children out of their apartment window, about 6-8 floors up if not higher, killing them. He ended up going to jail just like I just mentioned in number one and there were scenes of him still suffering from that PTSD and no one was giving him anything that would help towards it. I can almost guarantee that if more information was given and more awareness was brought around this man once he left his war tour and came back home, those two children could’ve been saved from death and his wife could’ve been saved from the constant physical abuse she received daily. He sat in that apartment for hours at hand, door shut and curtains closed severely depressed that eventually he just snapped. This often happens in the African American community and affects everyone in the household again just like I mentioned with the prison system.
- Faith and Religion – I brought this topic up a while back on whether or not your faith was really helping your mental health. Now, before everyone goes and jumps on me virtually about this, hear me out. Following a set religion is not a bad thing. Not following a set religion is not a bad thing. You have that choice as an adult in life on which route you want to go. But often times, those who are highly religious believe that there is no such thing as a mental health illness. In my eyes, I see this as a way and method for people to ignore what’s going around them, especially in the African American community, another form of showing ignorance to the reality of how bad things have become. We rely on our faith for almost everything ya know. From putting food on the table, to graduating from school, our faith is heavy in the black community. But I always wondered, is our faith enough. You know if a man is showing signs like the young man mentioned in number three of extreme cases of depression and trauma, is going to church really going to help him overall with his problem? In my opinion, no it wouldn’t. Once a man has lost all faith in anything like he did, stronger help is needed that attending church can’t really immediately help. I feel like sometimes we as African Americans tend to hide behind religion as hopes that things will just go away and sometimes for some people, in some cases, this does not work. Some may need additional help that can help them obtain that faith again.
- Distrust – Many African American men do not seek help for their mental state of mind out of a distrust for the medical field as a whole as well. This goes all the way back to the syphilis experiment historically, or what you all may know of as the Tuskegee Study. Due to this disgusting act of violence and neglect of black men in this country years ago, black men of today still question all doctors and the treatments given to them as they have every right to do so. Most of the time, this leads to African American men just not going to any forms or doctors at all unless something major happens to them and most of the time it is too late by then. Black men have suffered negligence, prejudice and discrimination in the health care system that has ultimately pushed them away from proper treatment for certain conditions that they may need. Then on top of that the system has pushed many out of options due to not having health insurance. In 2012, 19% of African Americans had no form of health insurance. During the Affordable Care Act with President Obama this number dropped dramatically, but now with Trump in office this number has shot back up and is only continuing to rise daily. Another factor that plays into the distrust of the health care system when it comes to African American men and mental illnesses is the misdiagnosis often done. There have been reports of doctors giving either too much medication for certain conditions which have led to long term effects, or doctors misdiagnosing conditions for one problem, when really there is something else going on. This has led to the wrong medications being distributed often causing bigger problems than what was initially going on.
As you can see, there are many factors that play a part in the mental health of the black man. There are a ton of things that black men in this country go through daily that just go over looked and unnoticed for some reason. I am hear to tell you if you’re reading this right now and you’re an African American male going through any forms of mental health problems, please speak up. You do not have to be silent about what you’re going through. You do not have to cage yourself in and box yourself into a corner of no return. You can show your feelings. You don’t have to hide your emotions. If something is bothering you, tell someone so they can possibly help you. It is ok to receive help from someone else. It is ok to allow a woman to help you pick yourself back up again. Please don’t feel ashamed for getting the help you may need and reaching out to those around you. If you have a homeboy or a sibling whom is also a male and you know they are going through something, reach out to them today. Call them and check up on them. Ask them to come over to play video games or to go to a bar or out to eat. Help one another to build one another back up to where you need to be.
Black men, you matter.
Black men, your feelings matter.
Black men, your emotions matter.
Black men, your mental health matters.