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I Cry Too — Black Men and Mental Health Stigma.

In his November 2016 article entitled, On Black men and Mental Health, scholar Jonathan P. Higgins wrote on the cultural expectations of black masculinity and their connections to the plights of mental illness among black men in their communities. Using examples of the gradual, and public mental deterioration of well-known hip-hop artists such as Kanye West and Kid Cudi, Higgins explained how many black men evade treatment for mental health issues out of fear of being stigmatized and possessing depleted masculinity. He refers to Kid Cudi’s Facebook declaration of his admittance into a rehab facility after explaining his battle with anxiety, depression and suicidal ideations. In addition to addressing Cudi’s post, Higgins divulges into Kanye West’s ranting episode at his concert in which he spoke about his failing relationships before abruptly ending the show, as a means to exemplify what often happens when people fail to get treatment for their mental and emotional issues. Higgins speaks of his personal battles with mental health and its conjunction to the toxicity of black masculinity. He ends the article with a call to the black community to encourage men to seek the help that they need and end the stigmatization of mental health struggles.

While I believe this subject should be published in all media platforms, I took well to the independence of the article, as it is a part of The Roots website which is directed at providing opinions and factual news on the happenings in the black community. The purpose of the work is to enlighten people on the presence of mental health issues amongst black men, it struck me on a level beyond academia.

“As a black man that has struggled with depression and anxiety throughout much of his adolescence and early adulthood, the article provided me with a personal connection to the exemplary artists, especially since I actively listen to their music.”

Furthermore, the article reinforced my position on emotional expression as being vital and should be encouraged when working or interacting with black men and boys.

Coupling Higgins’ work with that of other scholars, the conversation on mental health issues within the black community is based on two concepts, identity and stigma. These concepts are heavily interdependent. For example, in the 2009 article on black male mental health and well-being, researcher Daphne C. Watkins and her colleagues, discussed the connection between gender socialization and mental health. Their findings emphasized that black men are socialized to be strong and emotionless, with the exception of anger or sadness as result of extreme situation (i.e death of a parent.), and thus they view mental health challenges as a direct blow to their masculinity and are less likely to receive help. For these men, the identity of mental illness is one of weakness and estrangement rather than normalcy. With Watkins and Higgins’ work, I hold their viewpoints to be accurate. The socialization of the black male to be a person of minimal emotional expression — while also bearing the multifaceted load of racism and other social developments — ironically assists my understanding on how the identity of mental illness within black men is about as common as they are told to “Man Up.”

In connection to identity, stigma plays a pivotal role in the impact of mental illness in black men. As per Mick McKeown and his team of researchers addressed in their 2008 journal article on the emasculation of black men in modern mental health care, men suffering from mental illness are often seen to be weak-minded, dramatic, or even feminine. In that, they are consistently ostracized from their black social circles and families, as being a contradiction of their socially-defined manhood. Conjoining these occurrences, McKeown’s study focused on how the aforementioned ideas manifest themselves in the psychiatric field. They uncovered that the black men in their study, who were suffering from a plethora of mental and emotional complications, showed signs of improvement mostly when they were in group counseling settings with other black men dealing with similar challenges. Thus, McKeown and his team concluded that community work and advocacy works better than discreet, anomalous action when addressing the existence of mental health struggles with black men. All in all, their work upholds Higgins’ position of focusing on the collective combatting of stigma and discrimination of black mental illness as being the most effective, and I agree with their perspectives.

As stated in the summary of Higgins’ article, the examples used were on black musical artists with massive social influence. While the article does not explicitly talk about Kanye and Kid Cudi’s personal lives and how the conditions for their loved ones has changed with their mental illness, Higgins’ uses their mental breakdowns as a culminating image for how common and non-personalized mental health issues are with black men. Additionally, the artists frequently speak on their mental challenges in their music, and although they have sold millions of copies and have sustained fame, the severity of their mental illnesses has fallen on many deaf ears. For example, in the 2012 hit “Clique,” Kanye speaks on his battle with depression and suicide in the aftermath of his mother passing. West says “ Went through deep depression when my mama passed. Suicide? What kinda talk is that? ” Similarly, Kid Cudi speaks about his problems with drugs and suicide in his 2010 song “Please don’t play this song.” He raps “ Reckless and young and my, my mom’s calling, think I should hit decline. I’m numb faced while I’m thinking ‘bout suicide ”. Both artists make it clear in their music that they have internal problems regarding their mental well being, and given the recency of Cudi’s admittance (and release) into a rehab facility and Kanye’s on-stage meltdown, their issues are, unfortunately, on-going years after the release of these songs.

Higgins’ article and the connective research serve as a motivational tool for me in my line of work. As a school social worker, I frequently encounter black youth that do not know how to, avoid, or are misinformed regarding expressing their emotions. Consequently, those individuals battle with mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. Higgins’ perspective and call for community action aligns with my belief that black people should encourage their boys to speak about their emotions and release them in productive ways, rather than suffocate them and let them fester into potential mental illnesses. For as a black man, I know that we cry too.

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