Although major depressive disorder (MDD) is less common among African American men than white men, African American men with depressive symptoms often are misdiagnosed, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Depression, anxiety or any mental health issue amongst Black men is often dismissed or unaddressed in the Black community, which deeply affects the quality of life for Black people as an entirety. In fact, according to the U.S. News & World Report, the suicide attempt rates amongst Black teen males continue to rise in comparison to any other ethnic group and suicide still remains as the second leading cause of death between the ages of 10 to 38.
As we begin to break the stigma and create changes in our community by starting positive conversations and speaking up about mental health, we subconsciously create a safe space for young Black boys to relieve any feelings of loneliness, fear and hopelessness. xoNecole had the opportunity and pleasure of speaking with these powerful Black men across psychology, social work, and mental health advocacy about their personal journeys and advice for young Black men fitting the same shoes that they themselves have walked in.
A Black Man’s Mental Health and Stereotypes
We don't notice it off-rip, but societal norms and gender differences cause a disruption in how we should be dealing with mental health in its entirety. According to the Psychological Health Center of Excellence, "gender stereotypes are fixed ideas about men's and women's traits and capabilities and how they should comport themselves, based on their biological sex". Gender stereotypes are omnipresent in everyday life, but especially so in the realm of mental health and its impact on each gender.
"There are few stereotypes about Black men such as they don't have the capacity to express their feelings or emotions, they're angry or aggressive, or they're not monogamous. I think regardless of ethnicity or race, some men prefer not to be emotional or talk about their feelings," shares Dr. Erlanger A. Turner. The author, clinical psychologist, and assistant professor of psychology at Pepperdine University vocalizes his disagreement with these stereotypes by stating that most Black men do not fit into the categories given to them. "In regards to stereotypes of Black men, I think because of these perceptions Black men are assumed to have poor mental health and engage in unhealthy behaviors such as substance use or sex to cope with life."
He continues, "I do think that based on each man's views about adhering to ideals of masculinity, that it may influence their decisions about when and to whom do they express their emotional side." Unfortunately, pertaining to those ideals of masculinity, especially when diving into a deeper conversation about gender as a social construct, in the Black community, being vulnerable and honest about your emotional well-being is deemed as "soft", "weak", or "unmanly".
From The Womb To The Tomb
Osadeba Omokaro, co-founder of DEAD THE SILENCE, chimes in with a thought about his childhood and how gender roles play a part in his emotional well-being, "As a child, all the people that were around me that were emotional were feminine, and the more stoic individuals were manly. The interesting part of this is as an adult I believe men can be internally emotional yet remain unwavering as long as they truly process those emotions, but if a male has emotions yet cannot identify them, they are lost."
"As an adult I believe men can be internally emotional yet remain unwavering as long as they truly process those emotions, but if a male has emotions yet cannot identify them, they are lost."
Osadeba continues to reflect on his upbringing as a child and recalls that he was not initially encouraged to open up about his emotions. "I was told not to show my emotions from my brothers, OGs, girls and my dad," he says." It made me hard and a fighter."
"A lot of men are conditioned at a young age not to show emotion or express feelings. This follows many men into adulthood and manifests itself in various parts of our lives. There is a shift happening though, where men are realizing that holding everything in does not serve them," co-founder of HealHaus Darian Hall adds. As a Black man as well as a member of a Black fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, Darian realized the importance of creating a space for people of color in New York City to practice mental wellness and combating depression and anxiety.
"A lot of men are conditioned at a young age not to show emotion or express feelings. This follows many men into adulthood and manifests itself in various parts of our lives. There is a shift happening though, where men are realizing that holding everything in does not serve them."
On the impact of his childhood on his emotional structure as an adult, founder of The Lives of Men Jason Rosario ponders retrospectively about how his poorly-given childhood advice was transferred. "I think a lot of boys, not just me, received those messages directly and indirectly. What that does is separate us as men from our humanity and capacity to feel. When we get older, we've become so good at compartmentalizing and suppressing our emotions that we become emotionally repressed and unable to identify, much less articulate how we feel," he says.
"I think a lot of boys, not just me, received those messages directly and indirectly. What that does is separate us as men from our humanity and capacity to feel. When we get older, we've become so good at compartmentalizing and suppressing our emotions that we become emotionally repressed and unable to identify, much less articulate how we feel."
As We Go On…
When coming into one's adulthood in today's society, men are oftentimes challenged of their manhood with financial and physical tasks such as taking care of their families by bringing home the primary source of income or lifting an old three-ton chiffarobe out of the basement. However, as a society, we have failed our Black men by not providing them with the proper safe space to express their mental health concerns to their friends, spouses, peers, colleagues or even conditioned them to believe that a therapist is an option.
"The fear that many Black men experience around expressing their feelings is rooted in mistrust, which goes back to the days of slavery. Black men were tortured, abused, and/or ridiculed for expressing their feelings," Dr. Randy "Dr. S" Sconiers states with historical context. Furthermore, he added that society continues to perpetuate those narratives by creating harmful stigmas around Black men expressing their feelings, thus being associated with weakness and inferiority. "For these reasons, Black men have been conditioned within systems such as schools and social constructs to hold feelings in order to be viewed as strong and manly. In other words, 'man up and keep your feelings inside.' That's totally wrong and damaging to the psyche of Black men."
"Black men have been conditioned within systems such as schools and social constructs to hold feelings in order to be viewed as strong and manly. In other words, 'man up and keep your feelings inside.' That's totally wrong and damaging to the psyche of Black men."
The podcast host and founder of Mental-Hop also thinks about the impact of love, women, and romantic relationships on today's Black men. When asked by xoNecole about his thoughts on women expressing their lack of respect for a 'beta-male' or a man that wears his heart on his sleeve, Dr. S responds with, "I believe that kind of thinking by women only further harms the overall well-being of Black men."
Because men put so much stock into the feelings and thoughts of what women think, if there's a widely accepted consensus that women don't want a 'beta man', it only reinforces that they should not express themselves in order to be deemed as more attractive by the opposite sex. "Conversely, if a woman expresses that a man who expresses his feelings signifies a strength and attractiveness, men may ultimately see that as something to aspire to do more often."
The Next Generation…
'Train them up in the way that they should go,' is something I've been hearing all my life whether I overheard people talking to my mother about me and my siblings or church folk gathered around gossiping about the latest young people scandal. Everyone, from what I've experienced, takes this term as forcing a child to live the life that you'd want them to live as opposed to the emotional healthy, non-scarring life that they should. When asked by xoNecole if he had any advice to share with the next generation of young Black men about mental health and wellness disparities, Jason wants to remind them that they are simply enough. "That their existence alone makes them worthy of love, respect, compassion," he adds. "I want boys to grow up knowing that it's OK to access the full spectrum of their emotions because that along with their masculine essence is what makes them special."
"I want boys to grow up knowing that it's OK to access the full spectrum of their emotions because that along with their masculine essence is what makes them special."
Anthony Duncan, co-founder of DEAD THE SILENCE alongside Osadeba, pulls from his own tragic experience of the loss of his sister to give advice for the next generation of young Black men to emerge. "I was not able to show my emotions when my younger sister passed away from suicide. Everyone around me was heartbroken and I did not feel that I could express my emotions. I felt I had to be strong for others around me," Anthony shares with xoNecole. "I would like to teach them not to be afraid to express how they feel. Being strong is showcasing your vulnerability and being able to lead as well. Connection is key to communication and without it we do not have anything."
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month and continuing to be the light he wishes to see in the world, HealHaus' Darian Hall is offering $10 off unlimited monthly live yoga and meditation classes for xoNecole readers. For seven days only, use the code: "xonecole" when you sign up on HealHaus.com.
Featured image courtesy of Darian Hall