Mental Health and The Black Male-pt. 1

invisiblecrisisC.W. Stratton

We all have mental health, but we all do not have mental illness…”

Through the years, there have been absolute evidence that much of the services and supports that individuals utilize on a daily basis in order to better cope with certain emotions/feelings or mental disorders, has not been proven helpful or effective to “everyone”.  The history also points to the African American’s reluctance to seek assistance or to speak with someone from the dominant culture (White population). Many of us do not immediately connect this reluctance to the history or racism, prejudice, slavery, and discrimination; which are integral parts of American history and of the African American experience.  This writing is not to continue rehashing the history or to create a Us vs Them situation.  It’s about enlightening and informing, in an effort to begin healing during the current climate we are in.  There are some communities that are really in crisis and some do not even acknowledge it.  This moment of crisis can either break everyone or create solid supports to assist those who are suffering.

Seeking help for intense emotions, confusion, fears, substance use, or cognitive difficulties was something that was not sought.  If you were to even bring it up, the messages received was that you were weak, you were told to suck it up, man-up, or just get over it.  I’m my earlier years, the phrase was “put a H on your chest and handle it”.  In knowing this or hearing this, you would never ask for help with what you were experiencing.  So, you just hold on and stuff the feelings. These messages have been handed down from one generation to the next.  Even today, many of us as adults, are relaying this to our young people.  This is unfortunate. Many of us remember and know the old adage, “what goes on my in house stays in my house”.  We may have heard this from our parents, other family members, or some of us are relaying this same message to our young today.  When this is being relayed to anyone in the home, especially to a young person, it can be troubling in the long run.  If I have to utter these words at any point means that something occurring in the home shouldn’t be occurring.  These things could be:

*Verbal Abuse

*Emotional Abuse

*Violence

*Illegal Activity

*Neglect (lack of food, cleanliness, or care)

*Other forms of Abuse

*Substance Use

*Abruptly Absent Parent (due to incarceration)

*Emotionally Unavailable Parent

So, we tell our young people in our homes to be sure to keep all of these things a secret and go out into the world and be the best person they can be. However, when they screw up in the process they will be punished on some level.  Just imagine that. That’s a lot to put on a young person to carry around and expect them to be fully functioning and worry-free individuals. Many of the above listed issues that are present in the home will or can result in forms of “trauma”.  Trauma isn’t just about being a victim of a violent situation or crime.  Being witness to many of those things listed have a great potential to result in trauma.  As you can notice, “emotionally unavailable parent” is list as well.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “I take care of mine” or “they don’t need for nothing”. Yes, we can house a child and buy them things, but are we emotionally available for them, when they are in need?  When a parent isn’t there at this level, it can be devastating.

Now, we are seeing a lot of young black males acting out in so many ways that are damaging to themselves and to the communities in which they live.  The acts of violence, neglect of others, and perpetuation of the “no snitching” mentality is a direct manifestation of what they’ve experienced and learned at a very early age for many (don’t talk, don’t tell).  These are the same messages they’ve probably heard over and over when they were little boys until it became common practice.  They become most loyal to those who will do them the worse harm.  They begin exhibiting some of the same actions they’ve either witnessed at home or on their block.  Keep in mind that trauma related responses can manifest into a person becoming a perpetrator of such violence or neglect.  Some retaliations are about fear and survival tactics related to trauma. This isn’t about blame, but a way to bring some of what is being seen to the forefront.

Think of adult men who have gone through some of the same things and have never addressed it.  Many are currently struggling to keep it together or they may have difficulty managing their own emotions, despite now being an adult.  That same fear instilled in them at an early age about seeking counseling or guidance from a professional, still exists.  How do we reach these individuals to help them move out of fear and into healing?   It is imperative that we act now.

As a clinician/therapist, it is acknowledged that many service centers or agencies have psychological testing the tend to result in skewed results.  Meaning, many of the assessment tools used are not culturally competent, or they do not really address the needs of the African American client, nor do they put into account the experiences of this such client when considering providing services.  This may not mean much to you at the moment, but I needed to mention this because this is an added reason that help isn’t sought.  It’s time to create a space for Black Males in order to speak their truth and begin to heal. There are a number of qualified professionals and paraprofessionals that can assist and guide.  However, the courage to change must be included in order to do so. Having more culturally competent assessment tools and services that not only address client deficits (lack of education, unemployed, substance use, criminal history, homelessness, etc.), but address the characteristics that this population of people bring to counseling sessions is critical. This will be an ongoing matter that should be addressed. Some may disagree with what’s said here, but it’s paramount the we at least begin conversation.

The Burn Within

C. W. Strattonfire-heart-961194_1920

The moments come and go.  The sheer desire to recapture some of those moments, because many of them were opportunities, can have such a negative impact on our moving forward in our course of life.  The aspect of remaining with the status quo, in many instances, is the reason we allow opportunities to pass by.  Is this about fear?  Is it about the concern of what others will think?  Or, can it be that deep down you may not truly believe you deserve something better that what you currently have?  Possibly, it can be something other than what was mentioned.  When it’s all said and done, you will know the true reason for missed opportunities; not the excuses you may relay to others.

Conditioning is the idea of training or accustoming a person to behave in a certain way. Many of us have been conditioned to behave and respond to certain things in a particular way.  For the more open-minded individual, assessing your life experiences and closely looking at your responses to new things that may arise in your life, is critical. When something different or new arises, is the response “oh this is new, I’m very interested in this”.  Or, is the new thing or situation scrutinized and dissected before it’s really investigated?  Not to mention if others are initially scrutinizing the new thing, many of us will fall in line with the same scrutinizing response.  This is the in-group/out-group idea.  Many of us would prefer to be a part of the group opposed to outside the group; even if you don’t internally agree with the consensus.  Some will tolerate the burn within the soul to remain with the group.  What is this about?

There was a time when making a decision on my own, or having an independent thought, despite what the majority said, was the most frightening thing.  We ultimately take stock in what others think, despite what we tend to say verbally. However, is it good stock or bad stock?  Learning to hear the positive messages takes a level of mindfulness and determination if you are to fulfill those innate passions in life.  The whole idea of being alone with making a decision or having an independent voice about a given subject can be intimidating for some.  To relay your truth and have your voice heard requires risk.  Risks have been taken by some of the most productive and inspiring people. Wouldn’t you like to be productive and inspiring?

The fear can’t be allowed to restrict you from your goals in life. You are a person with individual thoughts and feelings. Have you ever been in a situation when a group that you were a part of were making a decision about something and you didn’t agree with the decision, but you didn’t speak up to present the idea you had, and the outcome wasn’t good?  What did you tell yourself?  Did you tell anyone the idea you had?  This is something that occurs regularly, and the result is regret and resentment towards self. Remember there are some places we just don’t fit in, because they are too small for us.

It’s time to recondition the mind and get rid of the box that has been built around you. It’s not just about thinking outside the box, because that’s only for a moment; the box must be destroyed.

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To Evolve

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C.W. Stratton
Evolve is a word or concept that continually gets thrown around, especially as it relates to doing better or improving. So, why aren’t we more inclined to use the word better or improve? Maybe it’s due to the aforementioned words appearing too plain, bland, or self-explanatory. The word Evolve may seem more of a process that includes sequential stages. Or, it may be a word that is used by intellectuals to identify the process of change and its importance. The definition of Evolve is to achieve or develop gradually, or to produce by natural evolutionary processes. No matter how you may interpret the word, the simple concept is about change; if it be in position, thinking or way of living.
This short writing is just a preliminary/introduction to ideas and breakdown of EVOLVE. Evolve is change. Evolve in this context is about positive change and evolve is a process that will hopefully result in lasting change. EVOLVE will present steps and positive ways to identify barriers that many of us may have, or have failed to recognize, in our pursuit of making lasting change in our lives. Some of those barriers are a result of past experiences, not necessarily traumatic experiences, but experiences that have impacted our thinking and ways of doing things. You know, those things we consider NORMAL, when in fact they really aren’t. You may not be able to recognize the faulty thinking patterns at the moment, and how they have guided some of the impulsive/bad decisions that we may have made along our journey. We will get an opportunity to truly embark on our past experiences in the world and hopefully obtain a different perspective of our current position. In doing this, we will begin working on the Self-Narrative; the story we tell ourselves about ourselves. The Narrative has had significant role in how we have lived our lives. It has guided us to this point and it’s time to change it. The same story we tell ourselves is the story we tell the rest of the world. Change may be needed. EVOLVE is coming but in the meantime, look within and begin identifying the faulty thinking/beliefs and assess the narrative that you’ve relayed to yourself over and over.