This past weekend I had the opportunity to watch the Lifetime Network special ‘Surviving Compton.’ This movie chronicled the story of former Death Row recording artist Michel’le and her alleged abusive relationships with Dr. Dre and Suge Knight. Throughout the story, the one thing that stood out to me was the chronic mental health issues that these men collectively shared that went unaddressed. The stress of the industry, their pasts and the streets was managed by self-medicating through drugs, sex and other destructive outlets.
After the movie was over, I couldn’t help but think about the mental health of Black men, especially given the recent events with hip-hop Artisit Kid Kutti. A few weeks ago Cutti, in a very personal message on Facebook, did what unfortunately many other Black men feel they cannot do, and that’s talk about his mental health issues. He leveraged his social media accounts as a platform to talk about his battle with anxiety and depression. In his deeply personal message, he opened up about about struggles such as ‘finding peace,” and spoke to the impact this disease has had on his ability to have a healthy life and build healthy relationships. In his deeply personal message, he opened up about about struggles such as ‘finding peace,” and spoke to the impact this disease has had on his ability to have a healthy life and build healthy relationships.
What I found to be interesting interesting is that Kid Cutti is not alone, he just had the guts to share. This became very evident as other Black men and Black women who love black men, took to social media expressing concern and revealing their own issues. Although Cutti’s admission and the subsequent online conversation that followed took many by surprise, it should come to no surprise that Black men are disproportionately susceptible to mental health and mental illness issues. When it comes to issues of health across the board such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer, Black men are at greater risk to have and subsequently die from them. Mental health is no exception. Our genetic make up is partially to blame, however health disparities and lack of resources and education in Black communities is a significant factor. Additionally, faced with the reality of being killed at alarming rates by police officers, high incarceration rates and other political, economic and societal issues, Black men are faced with an additional element of stress that impacts our health and mental well-being.
So why don’t we talk about it?
I have concluded that there are three major factors as to why we don’t open up and when posed the question ‘You Good Man?” our response is “Yeah I’m Good.”
It’s How We’re Raised
From the time we are born, Black boys are taught at home that we need to be strong or ‘”Boy up!” In my experience this can be seen even more so in single parent homes where there is no man present. Showing a display of emotion is discouraged as our parents pass on their own prejudices and life experiences regarding societal issues such as race, family, discrimination, homophobia, and drug addiction.
“Stop crying” is what we hear, as crying is a symbol of weakness and as a boy growing into a Black man, that’s a characteristic we can’t afford to have. In fact if we show it, we’re punished and looked upon as a “punk” or a “sissy.” In today’s hyper masculine environment, Black boys are rewarded by showing aggression not emotion.
A prime example of this can be seen in Lee Daniels hit show EMPIRE. In EMPIRE, Andre Lyon, played by Trai Byers, suffers from mental illness, a disease which appears to have been passed down from his Grandmother. Over the past two seasons we have seen how both his parents, Lucius and Cookie Lyon, have struggled accepting and addressing the disease. As a result, Andre shuts down and battles with it primarily in silence. Unfortunately for many Black men unlike EMPIRE, mental illness is not entertainment, it’s a reality.
Lack of Trust
Issues of trust are typically associated with women who have been on the receiving end of hurt or abuse from a failed relationship or friendship. What society does not recognize is that men have trust issues also, and with those issues come just as much, if not even more emotional baggage. As men we are taught to wear the mask. We experience the same pain and distress from troubled life experiences as anyone else, however we are made to feel that we can’t show it, many times for fear of judgment and being ostracized. This fear does not discriminate and effects Black men from all walks of life, even those who are the most successful and on the surface look like they have it all together. There is no better example of this then Def Jam Vice President Shakir Stewart, who in 2008 shocked the music industry when he took his own life. In a statement from his fiancée after his death, she reported that he was in “deep pain and largely suffering in silence.” Just like so many Black men, Stewart failed to share his feelings and suffered alone.
As a Black man with my own fair share of trust issues, I know from experience the feeling that if I expose my feelings, then others might judge me and perceive as weak or a failure. Through my conversations with other Black men, I have come to the conclusion that this line of thinking is not uncommon and is often driven by race. Black men are taught early on that you have to be twice as good as the white man, twice as fast as the white man, two steps ahead of the white man and that failure is not an option. Instead of putting our hearts and our fears out in the open we choose to not to be vulnerable and opt to figure it out on our own.
Limited or Uknown Resources
Black women have any number of resources they can turn to in order to express their issues and or learn how to better cope with them. Whether it’s flipping through the pages of ESSENCE magazine or relying on a small sister circle of friends. There are any number of resources designed to help women and children address these issues head-on. These same options don’t exist or a largely unknown for men, more specifically Black men. Our Black churches attempt to address men’s issues through small ministry groups, however even in church, the number of women that attend is disproportionate to men and often this support is seen as unattractive. Sure, there are any number of professional counseling options available. However these are also deemed as unattractive, because of the stigma of mental health and wellness within the Black community.
In order to effectively change the disposition of Black men and get more of us to seek help for our issues. It’s going to take individuals like Kid Cutti to admit “I don’t have it all together” and “I need help.” Just like Colin Kaepernick and his stance in support of Black Lives Matter, all it takes is for one voice to make a difference and the rest will follow. Hopefully other Black men will follow the example that Cutti displayed yesterday and when asked the question #YouGoodMan they’ll give an honest answer.