Express Yourself: Black Men and Their Emotions
Illustration by: RJaxn of Raw Graphix and Design
Mental Health and the Black Community
I know you may have heard the phrase, “black don’t crack.” This phrase usually speaks to how well Black people age. However, while we may appear stunning on the outside, internally we have scars that run so deep within us that we are still grappling with and recovering from today. Some we are conscious of others lie in our unconscious until we are triggered and reminded that scar is still porous. Due to years of generational trauma coupled with ongoing discrimination and racism living while Black will make you anxious and depressed as f**ck!!! According to Dr. Joy DeGruy, author of Post Traumatic Slave Disorder, states “post traumatic slave disorder is a condition that exists when a population has experienced multigenerational trauma resulting from centuries of slavery and continues to experience oppression and institutionalized racism today.”
As if the aforementioned stressors aren’t enough to contend with, the Black men in our communities have to deal with police brutality, attention placed on their looks and bodies to be physically strong, expectations to thrive physically in sports/athletics, and perform physical labor. Many Black men internalize the idea that their value lies in their physicality. Expressing their feelings or emotions is a direct contradiction to their manhood or what they perceive to be their masculinity. This belief of what Black masculinity is or isn’t only intensifies psychological and emotional challenges such as anxiety and depression and because it's considered “weak” or “emasculating” to seek help they often suffer in silence.
Affirmations for Black Men: I will express not suppress my emotions.
Masculinity: What is It Really?
According to Merriam-Webster masculinity is defined as “the quality or nature of the male sex: the quality, state, or degree of being masculine or manly.” Toxic masculinity is defined as “a cultural concept of manliness that glorifies stoicism, strength, virility, and dominance, and that is socially maladaptive or harmful to mental health,” as defined by dictionary.com. Dr. R.W. Connell, author, sociologist, and professor identified four different types of masculinity: hegemonic, subordinate, complacent, and marginal.
hegemonic masculinity: embodies male domination and aims to exercise power and authority over women (and other men) with all the consequences of oppression, violence, and privilege
subordinate masculinity: behaviors and feelings conventionally attributed to women and is considered inappropriate and effeminate by most men
complacent masculinity: men who have no significant access to power and lack any high financial or social status, yet enjoys the patriarchal dividends associated with the male sex
marginal masculinity: groups of men who suffer social exclusion and only have very limited access to power
It's detrimental for a man’s identity to be tethered to society's definition of “masculinity” and to only be “masculine.” Through this association men are only seen by themselves and others as being strong, cool, capable, reliable, and dominant. Men are told as boys things such as “you’re the man of the house,” “don’t cry,” “be strong,” “toughen up,” and “man up,” among others. Strong black men are often looked at as “mean, scary, and thugs.” I’ve also heard t.h.u.g.s referred to as traumatized humans unable to grieve. Black men are often dealing with suppressed emotions that they are unable or unwilling to express. Society, social media, and television often depict black men as overly masculine, aggressive, and hyper sexual. This only reinforces to some black men that expressing emotions can be viewed as a sign of weakness. Therefore, as a black man you must avoid expressing your emotions at all cost. The lack of expressing other emotions such as compassion and sensitivity can result in a man exhibiting toxic masculine traits. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a man being strong and sensitive, courageous and compassionate, or dominant and docile. Defining black masculinity differently and exhibiting it differently may prove to be more beneficial to and for the community. “I am no less a man because I fear. I am no less a man because of mental health struggles. I am no less a man because only I get to decide what it means for me to be a man.” -Shawn Henfling
Affirmations for Black Men: I spark change by being the change.
Black Men and Suicide
Recent studies show that Black men are dying by suicide at a higher rate than any other racial group of men. The CDC says men are nearly 4 times more likely to die by suicide with Black men being the fastest-growing group of men. Additionally, suicide is the third leading cause of death for Black men ages 15-24.
Typical Signs of Suicide
Being preoccupied with death, dying or violence
Talking about suicide — for example, making statements such as "I'm going to kill myself," "I wish I were dead" or "I wish I hadn't been born.”
Increased use of alcohol or drugs
Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
Getting the means to take your own life, such as buying a gun or stockpiling pills
Isolating/withdrawing from social contact
Mood swings, extremely happy one day and deeply saddened the next day
Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns
Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or reckless driving
Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there's no other logical explanation for doing so
Saying goodbye to people as if they won't be seen again
Personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated
Suicidal thoughts are are a sign of extreme distress and an indicator that someone needs help. If you notice warning signs of suicide its best to seek or get help as soon as possible.
Affirmations for Black Men: I am loved, just as I am.
Black Mentors: Healed Men, Heal Men
Not enough conversations are taking place between Black men about the expectation of manhood. Black men must continue to bring awareness and share their struggles about their mental health publicly and among their friend groups. When Black men speak among Black men their voice is viewed as having authority. Friends learn ways to casually speak up meaningfully when they are concerned about their friends' well being. Being honest about your mental health struggles amongst other Black men and friend groups allows other men to bypass shame, fear of rejection, and possibly open up about their mental health problems. Having the tough conversations about mental health can aid in breaking down the stereotypes that surround mental health allowing other Black men to speak to the stressors and vulnerabilities that affect them. For a lot of Black men there’s this unspoken expectation of not talking about emotions and suppressing them. It's time to unlearn that it's not beneficial to you and the insurmountable pressure that can place on you is hard to live up to. To change the way people think about something, we must change the way we talk about it. We need to get to the point where we fear depression more than we fear revealing that we have depression. You can’t heal what you won’t reveal. Reduce the stigma!! I can’t speak as a Black man, but I can speak to how I have experienced Black men; mainly through my therapeutic work and my relationships as a wife, mother, sister, aunt and friend. Its time to HEAL Black men, it's very necessary!!
Affirmations for Black Men: I will heal, it's my birthright.
Resources for Black Men
Therapy for Black Men-dedicated space for Black men and boys to aid in finding mental health support. Black men face unique challenges and stigmatization and this website has targeted resources and a database equipped with mental health professionals to support men of color.
Boris Lawrence Henson
Five free therapy sessions provided by culturally competent therapists for Black men virtually or in person. Additional resources and support are also available such as the “UnSpoken Curriculum” and the “Let’s Talk Resource Guide.
Alkeme Health centers the Black experience through content, tools, and resources intended for joy, history, and growth. The goal is to create “generational health” by motivating and empowering the culture with health and wellness tools needed for healing.
Just Heal Bro Tour
Designed to help Black men discover their voice and express their thoughts while gaining practical tools to aid in their healing. It's a national tour and educational program that tours the country creating new ways of healing in Black communities utilizing evidenced based therapy and integrated wellness modalities.
Black Men Heal
Provides 8 free individual therapy sessions for Black men 18 and older in the states of PA, NJ, DE, NYC, MD, D.C., VA, and GA. An application is required to qualify for services. Also offers DEI coaching services as well as support groups focused on topics such as fatherhood, male depression, anger management, healthy relationships, and grief/loss.
Mental Health Suicide and Crisis Lifeline
Provides 24/7 free and confidential support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Call or text 988.
The Confess Project
National origination with local chapters that train barbers and stylists to become mental health advocates. Aimed at building awareness and breaking stigmas around mental health within the Black community. Their mission is to inspire Black boys, men, and their families to be better emotionally.
The Weight Room
The Weight Room provides culturally appropriate services exclusively to Black and Brown boys and men (ages 13-99 years old) through individual, couples, family, and group services as well as wellness workshops. Telehealth sessions are currently only available in CA, GA, NY, NJ, TX, and VA. Coaching services available nationwide. Private pay with sliding with sliding fee rates on a limited basis.
If you are struggling with anxiety and depression, it is important to remember that you are not alone. There are many resources and support systems available to help you manage your mental health.
Affirmations for Black Men: I choose to let go and seek therapy.