Black Men And Mental Health

Our mental health expert, T. Conswello Davis, touches the theme of mental breakdowns and suicidal thoughts among African Americans.

The erratic behavior of Kanye West in the past few years has raised red flags about the state of his mental health. Most recently, concert-goers were alarmed at West’s behavior in San Jose and Sacramento. West ranted onstage and expressed irrational thoughts about various people. West’s writer, Rhymefest, voiced concerns about his friend’s mental health in February of this year. Sadly, Rhymefest ended the relationship due to West’s denial – and the denial of West’s family members – about the seriousness of the issue.

Another Black music star, Kid Cudi, posted a letter to his fans online in October disclosing his battle with depression and suicidal thoughts. Mental illness is rampant in the United States and Black men – famous or not – are not immune. Men like Alfred Olango and Terrance Coleman were mentally ill and were killed by American police.

The mental health of Black boys and Black men is a critical issue which continues to worsen. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows the suicide rate of Black boys increased significantly between 1993 and 2012. Children who are African-American are three times more likely to commit suicide than white children, and the rate of suicides of Black children between ages 5 and 11 has doubled.

Image result for black children suicide rate

Mental illness can develop biologically due to genes. Some families have a history of this illness spanning generations on either or both sides. Some people develop depression or anxiety or other psychiatric illness from trauma, substance abuse, neglect, socialization issues, or loss (such as the death of a close friend or a family member).

The conversation regarding mental illness in Black children and adults would not be complete without the mention that racism – both systemic and day-to-day racism – and violence in poorer neighborhoods and in American society can affect one’s mental health.

Suicide rates

Those who are dealing with mental illness may be in denial. Depression symptoms, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, include fatigue; trouble sleeping or sleeping too much; hopelessness; restlessness; lack of pleasure in activities which used to give you pleasure; difficulty concentrating; and guilt.

Often, we ignore changes in people’s moods and attitudes as no big deal. We expect them to come out of it. The people do come out of “the funk”.  However, they will retreat later to go back into “the funk”.  The pattern may be a sign or red flag that something is wrong.  I have witnessed the effects mentally illness with individuals. The problems become more exacerbated if they do not receive proper mental health therapy or treatment.

Recently, Lauren Mims, the associate director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, published an article titled “Have the Courage: A Conversation about African American Mental Health”. Ms. Mims explains her own battle with mental health after experiencing the bomb attacks during the Boston Marathon. She was able to recover because she had a strong support system.

It is essential we address mental health and get more African American men involved with speaking and telling their stories to family, friends, clergy, the community.  When we learn, speak and talk about mental health, it supports us in recognizing early signs and understanding the causes. We began to erase the stigmas and negative beliefs. The individual suffering will ultimately have better quality of life with proper diagnosis, therapy and treatments.

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