Black lives matter. Black mental health matters too, and Black men’s mental health matters even more.
July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and Men’s Health Awareness month. I thought I would combine the topics and write about Black men’s mental health. But it is hard. So many stigmas and stereotypes are associated with Black men; all too often they are demonized and pathologized, so that writing about their mental health challenges feels like I am adding fuel to the fire.
But the data shows that Black men do struggle disproportionately with mental health challenges. Statistically, compared to other men Black men report having higher rates of depression, addictions, PTSD, and other signs of mental health distress. Several variables are believed to contribute to these high rates: high rates of trauma exposure, systemic oppression, economic and social pressures, and discrimination and stigma.
Here’s a brief snapshot of some of the data.
§ Studies examining trauma exposure among community samples of Black males show that approximately 62% have directly experienced a traumatic event in their lifetime, 72% have witnessed a traumatic event, and 59% have learned of a traumatic event involving a friend or family member.
§ Homicide rates for Black males are 26.77 per 100,000 compared to 2.67 per 100,000 for their White counterparts, and Black men are roughly three times more likely than White men to be victims of a nonfatal injury by firearm.
§ Rates for trauma exposure among Black males varied across studies by type of traumatic event. These included physical abuse/assault (52%), sexual abuse (37%), serious accident/injury (52%), death of a loved one (59%), domestic abuse (24%), emotional abuse (62%), and witnessing trauma (39%).
§ Suicide is the third leading cause of death among African Americans aged 15 to 24. African American men are also four times more likely to die by suicide.
If these numbers do not impact your spirit and raise your level of cortisol, then that’s concerning. It should break our hearts that Black men are struggling so much. Not acknowledging Black men’s mental health needs and the stigma associated with the mental health problems they face might inadvertently contribute to some of the stereotypes and negative associations with Black men. For example, having problems controlling emotions, having poor coping skills, having uncontrolled anger, having relationship problems, and even promiscuity can all be seen as “maladaptive” (not helpful coping strategies) and signs of mental unwellness. Would not allowing Black men the room to talk about and acknowledge their stressors and woundedness be wonderful? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to normalize help-seeking behaviors? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, when we see a Black man exhibiting the signs of woundedness, we asked what has happened to them and not what is wrong with them?
Until that day… What are the recommended strategies that Black men (all men, in fact) can use to help increase their wellness and mental health?
The research says men need:
§ “Real” friends they can be fully honest with—that they don’t have to “man up” with, men who can share openly and honestly the habits of survival.
§ Mentors and coaches. A mentor can help imagine what is possible and provide constructive and corrective feedback when needed.
§ Relationships that align with their purpose and dreams, and authentic supportive partnerships in which they feel healthy, well, and available to give and receive love.
§ Opportunities to feel successful and competent. To feel competent and successful, men need things that fuel their souls, things that matter to them and that are not just about what you accomplish or conquer.
§ Grounding in something bigger and deeper than themselves—spiritual practices, but also a spiritual community that provides direction, hope, and unconditional love to serve as a buffer against a hostile and violent world.
However, if more help is needed here, are some resources.
Therapy for Black men : https://therapyforblackmen.org/, Black Men Heal : https://blackmenheal.org/ or Resources for Black Mental Health: https://idontmind.com/journal/12-therapy-and-wellness-resources-for-black-mental-health. I would also check out Psychology Today’s directory of providers. You can look for specific providers there, and Christian Theological Seminary continues to be an invaluable resource. An innovative project is the Confess Project, which supports Black men talking about mental health and getting support at the Barber Shop: https://www.theconfessproject.com/post/helping-black-men-discuss-mental-health
For more information, check out: Brother, You’re on My Mind by the National Institute of Health: https://www.nimhd.nih.gov/docs/byomm_factsheet02.pdf, and the Soul of Black Men’s Mental Health : https://www.naminys.org/images/uploads/pdfs/Souls%20of%20Black%20Men.pdf