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.