Updated on 7/21/22
The emotional stoicism of Black men, and further, the issues surrounding Black men and mental health, are topics our society has historically been hesitant to talk about. Most notable of the few books on the topic, the author Bell Hooks’ work, We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity discusses the lack of love and acceptance that Black men face that’s resulted in an emotional crisis.
A recent survey concludes that Black adults are more likely to feel sad, hopeless, and worthless than White adults are. Not only are Black communities more likely to face mental health conditions, but serious mental illness among the BIPOC community has risen exponentially in the last decade.
Families living below the poverty line are at substantially higher risk for mental health conditions, and unfortunately, more than 1 in 5 people in the Black community lives in poverty. This ultimately puts a lot of Black Americans at risk for mental health conditions. Still, in spite of the higher risk and obvious need, just 1 out of 3 Black adults in the United States who live with a mental health condition actually get treatment.
The Conversation Around Black Men & Mental Health
In our culture, men have not been taught how to process and talk about their emotional experiences. This has fostered a sense of isolation, anger, and resentment. For these men, emotional volatility can result, sometimes manifesting by them “shutting down” in relationships and friendships. At its worst, budding resentment can even develop into outward expressions of aggression and even violence.
That’s not to say that the tide isn’t shifting for Black men. Back in 2016, musician Kid Cudi openly talked about his depression on social media. Following this revelation, the internet made it a point to talk about Black men and mental health with the hashtag #YouGoodMan. This movement was designed to help encourage Black men to talk more about mental health issues together and serve as one another’s keepers.
The trend continues as Kanye West has been more open in recent years about his mental health issues. Mogul Jay Z openly talked about infidelity and attending therapy around the release of his album 4:44. Artists like Logic and Prodigy have also previously highlighted conversations on mental health in their work and public imagery. In short, we’re seeing a shift take place, but for many, it’s not fast enough.
Understanding the link between Black men and mental health is imperative. The simple fact is Black communities face more significant mental health challenges because of numerous things, including socioeconomic status, generational trauma, systemic racism, and perhaps most importantly, the stigma that surrounds them getting the mental health help they might need.
Challenges Black Men Face with Mental Health
Statistics show that Black men suffer from higher rates of mental health conditions. In fact, they have a greater chance of experiencing severe hopelessness and sadness and feeling overwhelmed than white adults.
Not only are there barriers to culturally competent mental health care, but those social stigmas we mentioned, along with a deep distrust in our healthcare system, are also at play. The challenges of Black men and mental health care are too numerous to count, but there are a few common culprits that have come to light.
Lack of resources
Unfortunately, there’s a glaring lack of mental health resources in the United States. While mental health doesn’t discriminate, access to appropriate mental health care does.
“There are many reasons why BIPOC communities are minimally engaged in mental health treatment. They often lack access to culturally competent mental health care. There’s also been a history of bias and racism found in the healthcare system. This has ultimately led to many individuals, especially men in the Black community, a lot less likely to seek treatment for mental health issues.”
The Black community, in particular, is affected by mental health, often due to:
- Lack of health insurance
- Inability to afford proper care
- Lack of education in the community about mental health
Despite access to more affordable healthcare over the last decade, almost 12% of Black Americans do not have health insurance (in comparison, just 7% of white Americans are uninsured).
Finding affordable mental health care can be challenging, even for the insured. Those without insurance, however, are often left with no access to mental health care.
Distrust in medical providers among Black communities
There’s a lot of distrust surrounding healthcare among Black communities, and it’s no surprise why.
The Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) community has been historically affected by racism and prejudice in the healthcare system. Unfortunately, many people of color still experience this prejudice when seeking help from a healthcare provider.
While a provider may not consciously be biased toward a person of color, there’s often an underlying lack of cultural competency. Cultural competency includes:
- Recognizing different cultural backgrounds and how they influence treatment and communication with the patient
- Using a different approach in treatment methods when working with patients from different cultural backgrounds
- Understanding differences in health outcomes for Black patients
A lack of cultural competency often results in inadequate treatment and often, misdiagnosis.
This discrepancy in cultural competency has ultimately led to an intense mistrust of healthcare providers, causing many to disengage from or avoid treatment.
People of color may also be more likely to identify physical symptoms instead of emotional symptoms related to mental health conditions. For example, someone with anxiety may mention that their stomach hurts. A provider who’s not culturally competent might not recognize that these physical symptoms result from anxiety but rather dismiss them as something else.
Black masculinity, coupled with the stigma around mental health, is another significant barrier to diagnosis and treatment. In a study of almost 300 adults in the African American community, scientists found that Black men were very concerned with the stigma surrounding mental illness and thus, were not open to discussing or acknowledging it.
Black masculinity has been traced to slavery when Black African American men were traded as goods. Strong Black men were recognized and asked to perform highly physical activities. Unfortunately, the concept of Black masculinity didn’t stop when slavery ended.
In today’s world, Black men in professional sports and music are highly regarded as hyper-masculine. In addition, because popular culture typically dictates the stereotypical norm for genders, races, and ethnicities, Black men might still struggle with the pressures of Black masculinity.
This pressure to be strong and masculine might contribute to difficulty acknowledging mental health and seeking treatment for it. Aside from debunking black masculinity, black men heal by getting adequate mental health support.
Mental Health Awareness for Black Men
Because the rates of mental health needs are increasing among black men, removing some barriers faced by the BIPOC community regarding diagnosis and treatment is imperative. Any Black person should have knowledge of and access to mental health services.
The most critical agenda item should be to increase mental health awareness across all of society, but this is true, perhaps, especially for Black men. It’s essential we normalize the idea that mental health conditions are common and that seeking help is not a weakness.
Furthermore, educating the Black community about the physical symptoms someone may experience if they have a mental health condition like depression or anxiety is another step in the right direction.
These culturally competent resources for Black men can bring awareness and acceptance while offering support:
Educating ourselves and our children about the importance and struggles related to Black men and mental health is essential. This can be important for those as young as elementary school-age, so awareness, acceptance, and change can begin with the new generation.
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