(Black PR Wire) Kanye West is just one of several celebrities to come forward about his mental health struggles. Just a few years ago, he made waves on the internet with his tweets about slavery being a choice amongst other “free thoughts”. The Chicago rapper also shared a dialogue with Charlamagne Tha God where he revealed his private struggles with mental health. He spoke about the alienating feeling of being misunderstood while struggling with his inner challenges. Some fans have chosen to distance themselves from West despite his own admissions to faults and struggles in the past. His longtime friend and fellow G.O.O.D. music affiliate, Common, came to his defense despite harsh public criticisms surrounding his choice of words.
“No matter what, Kanye is my brother. No matter what. That’s my brother, and I love him. And, I don’t agree with everything he says and everything he’s thinking. But, I don’t agree with a lot of things of people that I love. But that doesn’t mean I love them any differently,” he said.
In the past, Kanye has spoken candidly about the dangers of being obsessed with fame and achieving status. His maniacal quest is a feeling felt on varying levels within the Black male community. Black men are taught at early ages to conceal their emotions for fear of being labeled effeminate and weak. BlackDoctor sat down with several mental health professionals to find out how you can support Black men in their most private time of need. Dr. Varleisha Gibbs, Dr. Renata Weatherspoon and Nick Bryant of Houston Case Managers.
1. What should you watch for if you “suspect” your male friend has a mental illness
Dr. Gibbs: Mental illness is complex. There are various diagnoses that you may be unaware of such as post-traumatic stress disorder and clinical depression. Not all symptoms reflect that of hearing voices and symptoms one may align with schizophrenia. However, there are some basic signs that your male friend may be suffering from a mental illness.
First, do you notice severe changes in their eating and sleeping habits? Sleep disturbances and significant changes in one’s weight should not be taken lightly.
Does your friend appear to be withdrawn and lack interaction? This may be revealed in decreasing activities, outings, or events that as friends you would typically enjoy together.
Has your friend increased their alcohol intake or begun other forms of substance abuse?
Do you notice mood swings and changes in behavior? They may have irrational fears, risky behavior, and appear fidgety and lack concentration.
Dr. Weatherspoon: Signs and symptoms of mental illnesses include depression, social isolation, fluctuations in appetite and sleep (either in excess or deficit), irritability, a lack of motivation, a lack of interest in activities that were once considered pleasurable, inability to focus, and a deficit in self-care to name a few.
Irritability in men is a major symptom that is commonly ignored as it is deemed socially appropriate for men to be aggressive and display aggressive behavior. While women may express emotions by crying and sadness, men tend to conceal or hide their emotions making them appear angry. Many mental health symptoms can appear to be physical in nature causing men to ignore symptoms. Elevated heart rate, shortness of breath, chest tightening, and headache may appear to be physical in nature but can, in fact, be symptoms of anxiety.
2. What are 5 ways men can support their friends in their time of need?
Dr. Gibbs: While similar to other physiological conditions, mental illness can be viewed negatively. A person may view a potential diagnosis as a character flaw or a result of their actions. First, reflect on any of your own biases that may exist. The conversation needs to start with the acknowledgment that we all have mental health stresses and most likely have experienced a mental health problem. It is not abnormal to have challenges and life stressors.
If suspecting a mental illness, be compassionate and thoughtful when discussing your concerns. The first step is asking your friend about their experience and how they have been feeling. Inquire if you can help them in any way due to some of the changes you have noticed.
If they open the door to you, offer to first be a listening ear. Ask what they believe the next steps would be. You do not want to jump to conclusions in assuming a diagnosis. Yet, if you believe they are spiraling out of control, are a danger to themselves, or to others seek help!
Start with the experts. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) can offer assistance. In case of emergencies, you must treat it as such, similar to that of any other medical emergency.
Dr. Weatherspoon: A support system is key to sustaining successful treatment. Loved ones can provide support by encouraging affected individuals to seek out the professional help of a mental health provider as well as reassuring the individual that they are not alone and that seeking help is the right thing to do.
Other supportive steps include encouraging the expression of feelings and emotions. Open communication can be very therapeutic as it increases understanding and displays empathy. Education and Mental health awareness are crucial when supporting a loved one suffering from mental illness. The more you know, the more suitable you will be to offer your support.
Bryant: Support them at all times, EVEN if they call at 2 am. Depression is often worse at night. At night you are isolated and things just seem more hopeless at night. Anita Baker even made a BEAUTIFUL song about the depression that night brings. Let your friend know you are just a phone call away anytime they need help. Encourage them to go on outings with you. This can be as simple as purchasing cheap seats and hanging at a baseball game or simply running errands with you on a Saturday morning.
People with depression often self-isolate so you will have to almost force them to come out of the rut they are in. Try one-on-one conversations ONLY to start. As Black men, we are prideful. Other friends may be willing to help but make sure your friend is comfortable with the idea of talking about their problems before involving anyone else. Provide actionable advice. Supporting your friend is a start but there comes a time when you should refer to a professional. Do the legwork for them, and find that professional. NAMI or National Alliance on Mental Illness offers a nationwide directory of starting points in each state.
3. Culturally why don’t men, especially black men, speak out about their mental health issues?
Dr. Gibbs: The pressure on Black men in today’s society is insurmountable. Black males not only need to be strong for their families but have to uphold an image of strength amongst other Black males. They also have to protect their families and communities. To this end, there is a strong historical component attached to mental health in the Black community.
Due to past events, such as the Tuskegee study of untreated Black males with syphilis, there are deep-rooted beliefs of mistrust in medical providers. Unfortunately, lack of proper medical access, practitioner bias, and persistently high rates of misdiagnosis may result in suppression or avoidance to discuss mental health concerns.
Additionally, some may perceive the acknowledgment of mental illness as a weakness or social stigma. One may believe others could fear them or not want to interact due to a lack of understanding.
Dr. Weatherspoon: Black men tend to ignore symptoms of mental illness for various reasons. A lack of education, a lack of health insurance, and the stigma surrounding mental illness are some of the more obvious barriers to treatment. In the Black community, masculinity is associated with strength and courage.
Crying is not commonly encouraged among men as it is for women. Men who show emotion are usually viewed as weak and vulnerable. For this reason alone, Black men are not open to seeking the help of a mental health professional. Another reason is a decreased number of Black mental health providers. Culturally, patients seek out providers who are sensitive to their social and economic realities.
4. What has your experience told you about this issue.
Dr. Gibbs: As occupational therapists, we work with individuals throughout the life span in the areas of physical and mental health. My experience has taught me that mental health disparities start very early on in life. Within the Black community, children of low economic status are exposed to stressors some may never see in their lifetime.
The majority of individuals in prison have at least one mental health condition. Care and attention must start with the youth and requires a family-centered approach. In the US, leaders utilize data from student success and school performance to determine the expansion of correctional facilitates. The “correction” needs to occur in the early years. The “correction” must start with the misconceptions of the Black male. Both Caucasians and underrepresented minority groups alike have to change their perceptions and biases and identify supports for the population!
If you have a Black man in your life please be a voice of reason and empathy for them. It’s not easy to suffer in silence, so be sure to take heed to the sage advice of our professionals. Thank you to Dr. Valeisha Gibbbs, Ph.D., OTD, OTR/L Chair and Director of Wesley College’s Programs in Occupational Therapy, Dr. Renata M. Weatherspoon, MSN, APRN, PMHNP-BC and Nick Bryant, owner of HoustonCaseManagers.com.
About the Writer: Daunte Henderson, founder of the MADEMAN Foundation, author, and educator based in Chicago. You can follow him at @brotherhenderson on IG.