Being a black man is hard work! We have to worry about the po-po, maintaining good credit and hoping we don't lose our hairline all before the age of 25. Sheesh! In 2019, mental health is still a taboo topic for minorities, especially among black men. I remember as a kid at my fathers funeral, the pastor looking me in the eye and telling not to cry. That I needed to be strong for my mother and two sisters sitting on the pew next to me. I was only 11. For many years I carried the weight of unresolved grief and trauma from losing a loved one until I hit a wall. I had a mental breakdown. Seeing a therapist was no longer an option; it was a necessity.
With the recent passing of Xxxtentacion, an artist whose lyrics directly addressed his struggle with suicide and depression, it's hard not to think how many other young black men who are dealing with the trauma induced by being a black male in this world. Artists like Kendrick Lamar, Chance The Rapper and Kid Cudi have used their platform to spark conversations about mental health and depression. I hope that their vulnerability is an example for other black men to be okay with not being okay. According to Mental Health America, 16% of the African American population had a diagnosable mental illness in the past year. That's 6.8 million black folks yall! More than the population of Chi-Town, Houston, and Philly combined!
So, what do we do?
We've put together a list of five unique ways to help cope when things get gray. Whether this is for you or a brother in your life, these tips will surely help you overcome mental hurdles when they arise.
1. Prayer and Mediation
Whatever faith you subscribe to, I believe it's important to find your center in some higher power whom you can trust to be an authority on your life. As a follower of Christ, when I'm going through a rough patch, this is extremely important for me and has had a profound impact on how I cope. Just find a quiet space and talking to God like a father, expressing exactly how I feel. Sometimes it's equally helpful to sit in that quiet space and focus on breathing and clearing out your mind of any negative thoughts.
Written text and media can be clutch to getting yourself out of a mental rut. I keep a few playlists on deck with songs that are positive and uplifting. My two favorite songs to listen to are "There is a Way" by Mos Def and "Were Blessed" by Fred Hammond. Songs can change your mood in a moment! If music isn't enough, I often write myself sticky notes that I'll leave around my apartment or place on the screen of my computer in the office. The key to both of these methods is to change the mental narrative playing in your head with positive reinforcing ques.
Going to the gym or for a run has been scientifically proven to release endorphins that help improve anxiety and depression. A steady routine of sweating it out can help fight off the heavy vibes. People can also use sex as a way to cope. Safe and consenting sex can be an effective method.
4. Change of scenery
If you can afford to, take a trip. Preferably somewhere with beautiful weather and people who can fill your tank. If you don't have the time and are budget conscious, something as simple as taking a walk through nature or going to a dope museum exhibit. The key here is to unplug from things that might be causing you stress. If its a person, put them on temporary pause, if it's work, disable your email and text notifications. A mental detox from technology can be essential for changing the mood.
5. Talk it out
Fellas I'm a keep it a buck with you. If you don't have men in your circle that you keep it a hundred, you might want to evaluate your circle. Far too often as men we suffer in silence because of our pride and ego. I've found that sharing a moment of weakness is usually welcomed with acceptance and understanding far more than rejection. Talking to friends is step one in my book. If after a few conversations with your guys, this isn't helpful, it might be time to seek professional help through a licensed psychologist. I still visit my psychologist once a month even when I'm not going through a crisis.
These are just a few tips to get you started. Above all, my challenge for everyone reading this is, if you see a black man, look him in his eyes and ask him, are you okay, like really? Are you happy? If it says no, affirm him that's it's okay. Remember your words hold power and by you speaking you could very well save a life.
Special thanks to Josh McNeil, licensed social worker and family therapist, for his contributions to this article. Go check out his work and movement @melanatedsocialwork on IG.