OP-ED Black Men Don’t Cry: How Black Men Actually Cope With Depression

June 7, 2022

Five hundred words aren’t nearly enough to fully break down the relationship an African American Black man has with depression. Notice I wrote “relationship” as opposed to “struggle.” That’s because the two are symbiotic in this Land of the Free-ish, Divided States of America. A rite of passage the minute they’re developed in the womb. The running gag has always been Black men having two strikes against them from the jump. Societal pressures only expound this cruel irony as opposed to other races. Lack of income, employment, or any sense of financial security. Childhood trauma that has never been unpacked or addressed. Discrimination. Fear of the police. Stereotypes that trigger most of these stressors. Whew…the factors that lead to this mental health issue are so vast five hundred words aren’t enough.

I harp on this because I, too, suffer from depression.

All too well, I know the low vibrations, the debilitating pain, anxiety, the suicidal thoughts, the darkness. And I wasn’t aware of how it affected my life until I was in my thirties, and a close friend witnessed it all and strongly suggested I seek therapy. That was the first step in me healthily coping with my issues instead of masking them with drugs, booze and women. Growing up as a child of the 80s, I was taught not to express feelings that showed a scintilla of weakness. “Stop ya bloodclot cryin’” and “I’ll give you something to cry about” were often said, or the dreaded “man the fuck up.” Those words stuck with me, so I acted in kind—the suppression that precluded the depression. Knowing what I know now, what my elders admonished me for, their elders did the same as did their elders. The kind of inheritance nobody should seek, but is thrust upon them. But that’s all they knew, thinking chastising was a way to instill masculinity in a young impressionable child who couldn’t spell the word. Still, facing my issues head-on by talking to a total stranger was never in my wheelhouse. But I was killing myself slowly and needed a lifeline. I was blessed to receive one and now have a better grasp of my emotions; I am not ashamed to be vulnerable amongst my peers and let out a good cry if needed. That’s how you man the fuck up. Not many of my melanated brethren can say the same and suffer in silence.

Peep the numbers.

According to the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience major depressive disorder than whites. Between 2015 and 2018, major depressive disorder increased by more than 3% amongst Blacks ages 18-25, as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration stated. And the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health reported that suicide was the second leading cause of death amongst African Americans ages 15-24 in 2019. “The death rate from suicide for Black or African American men was four times greater than for African American women in 2018,” the study continued. There might not be numbers to support this, but rest assured, with these staggering statistics, Black men are least likely to seek therapy or any kind of mental health treatment. Add a global pandemic to the list of factors mentioned earlier, and you have what Brian Smedley, Ph.D., chief of psychology in the public interest at the American Psychological Association, says is a “mental health tsunami,” which has already hit the shores of the Black community. “The combination of physical distancing, economic anxiety, and—for people of color—the very real stress from racism since the pandemic means that we will have a lot of unmet mental health needs unless we can dramatically shore up the mental health infrastructure and address workforce shortages,” he told NBC News in 2020.

Black man, trust me, I understand. The country our ancestors built has applied continuous pressure on our backs due to the weight of institutional racism and discrimination. But you can’t let that crush you. You are needed. You are loved. You are strong. Internalizing your fears and anxieties doesn’t show strength. It shows deflection. You’re running away from yourself and those who care for you. Walk towards, not away. And if you can’t see the signs that therapy is that path forward, “The Black Man’s Therapist” Dr. Patrice N. Douglas created a chart to follow.

Be well, my brother.