Black Men and Mental Health: Doing the inner work is the new REAL!
Black Men are the epitome of strength. However, as a culture, we define strength based on outward appearance. When the reality is that true strength comes from within and starts in your mind. As black men, we are taught to be strong and not show emotion because that is a form of weakness.
Many of us are broken inside but have become masters of illusion. The inner work is vitally important to the survival of the black man in America. However, seeking help, especially mental help is taboo for us.
According to the U.S. Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are less likely to have their mental health problems addressed. Despite increased awareness, depressed African American men continue to underutilize mental health treatment and have the highest all-cause mortality rates of any racial/ethnic group in the United States. An article published in 2015 by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) reviewed a complex array of socio-cultural factors, including racism and discrimination, cultural mistrust, misdiagnosis and clinician bias, and informal support networks that contribute to treatment disparities.
Based on NCBI’s article, men in the U.S. are up to four times more likely than women to commit suicide. Men, regardless of their race/ethnicity, have lower rates of mental health service utilization for a myriad of stressful life events compared with women. Traditional masculinity norms contribute to men’s under-utilization of health care services. Men are encouraged to “tough out” illness for as long as possible. Seeking mental health treatment is perceived by many men to conflict with traditional gender norms.
The National Institute of Mental Health launched a nationwide public education campaign, Real Men Real Depression, in April 2003. This initiative was the first large-scale community mental health campaign in the U.S. that specifically sought to raise awareness about depression among men. Despite increased outreach over the last decade, depressed African American men are significantly less likely to seek help compared with depressed White men.
African American men, compared with men from other racial/ethnic groups, are disproportionately exposed to socioeconomic inequalities that contribute to health disparities. Numerous studies have examined the relationship between racism-related life experiences and psychological distress. Racism has been hypothesized to affect the mental health of African Americans in several ways.
According to the NCBI article, institutional racial discrimination can limit socioeconomic mobility, leading to poor living conditions that negatively affect mental health. The acceptance of an inferior social position among minority group members could cause impaired psychological functioning.
Racial discrimination was cited as a depressogenic risk factor among African American men. Everyday forms of discrimination, referred to as “micro-aggressions” by Dr. Chester Pierce, may be more stressful than overt acts of racial discrimination because they are repetitive and subtle. Examples of these non-verbal exchanges are being followed because of one’s race or being a victim of “Stop and Frisk” policies by police. Micro-aggressions are recognized as an integral part of clinical encounters for African Americans.
At some point in a black person’s life, especially a black male, he will experience one or many of these “micro-aggressions.” Some may experience more than others. Geography plays an important role as well. Given the history of how African Americans have been treated in America, it is safe to say that most of us suffer from PTSD and we do not even realize it. It is overlooked or denied.
However, many health professionals have been increasingly willing to agree. You do not have to be a member of our armed forces to have been exposed. Black men have been at war since before we were even allowed to join the military. Our mental, emotional, and spiritual health have suffered the most.
As a black male from the south, Louisiana to be exact, I have experienced racism and discrimination in every form. I have experienced death after death in my family, some I’ve witnessed take their last breath. I’ve been a product of my environment, but I also made it out of that environment. All of this was done without any cognitive consideration for my mental health.
This is partly because I grew up never seeing the men in my family express their emotions. They put the world and their family on their shoulders and carried the weight without a thought of themselves. I took this to heart. I always internalized and dealt with things quietly and within myself. It was not until a little over a year after the loss of my son in 2018 that I realized I needed to speak with someone.
For the first year, I tried to handle grief as I had in the past. Similar to every other obstacle in my life, I internalized. I was depressed and broken inside and no one close to me knew it. I didn’t even know it. I felt like I was drowning and everyone around me was just watching. I felt I could not talk to those around me because they could not relate.
It wasn’t until my first day of therapy that I finally felt a release of weight. I have been going to therapy every Thursday morning for almost a year now. It has been the best and most important decision I have ever made in my life. I have realized so much about myself and why I made certain decisions, generational barriers, and how the dots connect.
Holistic well-being is the goal that we should be striving for. But that starts with your mental health. Doing the inner work is as important as the very air that we breathe. In order for us as black men to be who we were always meant to be (Kings, Protectors, Providers, and Leaders), we must take care of our whole selves. My advocacy for men’s mental health, but more importantly black men’s mental health, is and always will be deeply rooted in the spirit of change and love. Love for all, but most importantly love yourself.
Peace and blessings!
Written by: Abe Lowe IV - Lawyer and Activist
Such an important and overlooked topic! Thank you for your transparency!