On Black Men and Mental Health

As a community, we need to encourage black men to take care of their mental health.

Kanye West Pierre Suu/Getty Images

They say it is only funny until everyone stops laughing. Well, today we’ve stopped laughing, and many of us are quite concerned.

This weekend, Kanye West had what is being referring to as a mental breakdown after performing a few songs at a show in Sacramento, Calif. After going on a lengthy tirade about what is perceived to be a dying relationship with Jay Z and Beyoncé, West dropped the microphone and walked offstage, abruptly ending his concert.

Weeks before this event, we watched Kid Cudi experience a similar episode when he went off on Twitter about feeling abandoned by Kanye and a few other celebrities in his time of need. Cudi later checked himself into rehab to deal with issues related to depression and suicidal thoughts. He then performed again for the first time earlier this month and yesterday penned a post on his Facebook page thanking West and others for their support.

Thoughts about West’s mental health have included references to the death of his mother, his time away from family, and the stress and pressure of fame. There’s also speculation that those around West thrive on his behavior for profit and for proximity to the multihyphenate star. As someone who is truly concerned for my fellow black brother, I ask this question: Why don’t black men seek professional help in their time of need, especially around issues related to mental health?

Shame. Fear. Judgment.

These are all topics that came up in conversation when Kid Cudi decided to check himself into rehab. For Cudi, coming to terms with needing assistance with his mental health was difficult because he felt that others in the black community would see him as weak. After all, Cudi has an image to maintain, and for most black men, the image of being strong outweighs the mental-health struggles they deal with.

I, too, struggled with the same issues when I decided to seek professional assistance. Many in my family told me that I needed to “man up” and deal with my problems on my own. Others told me that I needed to stop taking things so personally and learn to maintain without the help of a professional counselor. When I did open up about seeing a counselor regularly, to my surprise, many of my peers shared that they, too, wanted to seek help, but feared being judged by other black family and friends.

These feelings are not uncommon for many in the black community. We often struggle with opening up about what good mental health looks like and how to begin conversations around the topic without shaming one another. Even in this week’s episode of Insecure we saw this, specifically in the storyline when Molly (Yvonne Orji) responded to Issa’s (Issa Rae) suggestion that she should go to counseling to work on her relationship and dating issues.

So what is the big-picture issue here? Why does it seem that the black community does not engage black men around taking care of their mental health?

The reality is that masculinity is toxic and can be viewed as a prison. For many black men, not going to see a therapist means that they are being “strong” when, in all actuality, they are only doing themselves a real disservice. The idea that black men can maintain their mental health on their own is rooted not only in machismo but also in the idea that by seeking help, you are weak and allowing someone to see all of your dirty laundry.

And the last thing we want to do as black people is expose our dirty laundry, right?

As a community, we have to recognize that by not seeking help, we are truly only hurting ourselves. We should not be ashamed to talk about mental health because our community as a whole is dealing with some of the most difficult issues. We as black men have led difficult lives. We as black people have led difficult lives.

To say that we don’t need help navigating our struggles is a disservice not only to the community but also to the struggles we face as black men.

Black men, it is OK for you to get the help you deserve. Let’s hold each other accountable for that.

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