Why do many black men hide mental illness?

Studies show that one in 10 black men live with depression, but experts believe many more struggle in silence. Here is how you can help.

You might think At the dawn of 2022, speaking candidly about mental health is as common as hanging out at the dinner table. And in truth, we’ve come a long way since the days of denial and labeling people with psychological problems as damaged property. But for the average African American, recognizing that your emotional, psychological, and social well-being affects your daily life is still very taboo, especially for black men.

There are many reasons why African American men suffer disproportionately from mental illness, but much can be attributed to issues of fairness and racism, suggests Edwin C. Chapman, MD, an internist specializing in human medicine. drug addiction at the Black Mental Health Alliance. , a collaboration of doctors and experts dedicated to the well-being of blacks, located in Baltimore, Maryland. If you want to get to the root of the problem, this phenomenon of black men silently suffering from mental illness “stems from a history of slavery, segregation and the Jim Crow era,” says Dr. Chapman.

[Black men] have always learned not to let people see them in pain, so we hide it, internalize it and not talk about it, ”says Dr. Chapman. “This comes from a long tradition of oppression and, therefore, anxiety and depression, which is often misinterpreted in our community as a sign of weakness. Denial is really a defense mechanism and [a way] to hide this wound.

In recent years, there have been increasing efforts by black male athletes, artists and celebrities to come forward and speak openly about their mental health issues. Hope: Being upfront about their situation can reduce stigma and give other black men the confidence to do the same. It’s a step in the right direction, experts say, but there is still a long way to go.

What the statistics say

Blacks make up about 12% of the population, but are 20% more likely to suffer from a persistent, disabling, treatment-resistant major depressive disorder, compared to their white counterparts. For African American men, this more serious mental illness too often leads to suicide. In 2018, the suicide death rate for black men was four times higher than for black women, according to the Office of Minority Health (OMH). In 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for black men aged 15 to 24.

These numbers correlate with the fact that black men are less likely to seek treatment when they are in difficulty. This isn’t just a problem for men of color: the toxic definition of masculinity in society encourages all men to ‘get it over with’ when they feel upset inside. But for black men, this uncompromising attitude is reinforced because of the likelihood that if they seek help, they are less likely to receive an accurate diagnosis and the treatment they need. Note: Black men are four times more likely than white men to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, but are underdiagnosed for mood disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“When you have a marginalized identity, anything that pushes you further into the margins is something people really want to avoid,” says Arlington-based psychologist Alfiee M. Breland-Noble, Ph.D., (known under the name of Dr Alfiee). ), director of the African American Knowledge Optimized for Mindfully-Healthy Adolescents (AAKOMA) project and research laboratory and associate professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical Center. “God forbid, someone is attaching this label of ‘crazy’ to them… it could have important ramifications. “

To add fuel to the fire, 50% of black men in the prison system have mental health issues, according to some reports, but rather than being treated with psychotherapy or medication, their symptoms are criminalized, can -be the result of racism and negative stereotypes towards black men by society. Trauma experienced in prison makes black men even more reluctant to seek help. “Because of word of mouth black people know this is happening, so why would you want to reveal that you are having a hard time,” says Dr. Alfiee. “I understand why the brethren don’t speak openly about these things.”

Owning the Mental Health Movement

In October 2021, Dr Alfiee was a keynote speaker at the Mental Wealth Expo, a free event open to the public and focused on addressing mental health in the black community. The program was produced by media mogul Charlamagne Tha God. “We now have so many athletes and brothers like Charlamagne talking about these things,” she said. “They are redefining what manhood means to black men. ”

Charlamagne Tha God has also written books on the subject, including Shook One: Anxiety is playing tricks on me, which highlights his experience with mental health issues. His frankness is just one example of black men trying to change the narrative about mental health. Solomon Thomas, defensive tackle for the Las Vegas Raiders, provides another. Solomon co-founded The Defensive Line, an organization dedicated to mental health and suicide prevention, after losing his sister to suicide. Another former NFL player Jay Barnett, who struggled with mental illness during his football career, became a therapist, in an effort to fill the void of black therapists he discovered when he asked. help with his mental health.

“These men say ‘I’m going to do the opposite of what I’ve been taught, instead of being stoic and keeping everything I’m going to start expressing it because it’s a healthier way for me to cure, “says Dr. Alfiee. “These brothers are teaching the next generation, ‘If I can share my struggles, you can share yours too.'”

When mental illness strikes close to home

If you suspect that a black man in your life is struggling mentally, look for signs such as drastic changes in his mood or energy level. Also watch out for changes in their sleeping and eating habits. If you notice significant changes in your loved one, it may be time to take action.

Approach him non-judgmentally and ask if he’s okay and if he’d like to talk about anything, says Jonathan J. Goldfinger, MD, CEO of Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services in Culver City, Calif. . Ask them if there is anything you can do to help them, and reassure them that you are there to help, without judgment. (Definitely put your phone down, make eye contact, and let your friend know you’re listening, he adds.)

If the person doesn’t respond well, try again at another time, but don’t push. Taking an overly aggressive approach could cause him to have a strong reaction or stop altogether, says Dr. Goldfinger. “Instead, create the space for him to talk about it [when he’s ready],” He suggests.

Also watch out for signs of suicidal thoughts. If a person tidies up their final affairs or says things like “I wish I wasn’t here,” ask them directly without being judgmental if they have ever thought about suicide. Don’t be surprised, says Dr Goldfinger, if he gives you a ‘yes’ answer.

“Don’t pass and do nothing else. Call the national suicide prevention hotline with them, ”says Dr. Goldfinger. (Anyone can contact the hotline, with a family member or alone, at any time. Those who call the suicide hotline are at lower risk of suicide than those who call 911.) Most important thing. is that you “tell the person that they matter and that you care,” says Dr. Goldfinger.

To reach the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, call 1-800-273-TALK; it is open 24/7 and available in all languages.

Keydra Manns

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