#YouGoodMan: Black Men And Mental Health

06/27/2017 12:31 am ET Updated Jun 27, 2017

Mental health among Black men has been a topic of discussion for decades. Black men as a group often experiences significant amounts of psychological stress as a result of discrimination, social and economic challenges, and racial injustice [1, 2]. In the wake of increasing injustice related to police aggression and brutality there is growing concern about the impact of these events on mental health. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health [3] noted that those who reported more police contact experienced more symptoms of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, few Black men seek mental health care. Black men may avoid seeking mental health treatment due to stigma, mistrust of providers, or lack of culturally-informed care [1, 4].

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In 2016, social media started a dialogue on Black men’s mental health using the hashtag #YouGoodMan following the disclosure of mental health issues by rapper Kid Cudi. In a post on his Facebook page, Cudi stated he was seeking help to treat his anxiety and depression. Research shows that African Americans often under-utilize therapy compared to White counterparts [4]. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 18.6% of African Americans report living with a mental health condition but only 16.9% report using mental health treatment.

Based on research, we know that there are common barriers to treatment among various racial and ethnic groups. First, there is substantial evidence on mistreatment and misdiagnosis among African Americans. Studies often show that people of color are misdiagnosed with more serious psychological conditions even when they have similar symptoms as Whites. Studies also show that Black men often are socialized or grow up in homes where masculinity is emphasized and men are not encouraged to talk about their feelings or emotions [2, 5]. Although the mental health profession has work to do to address barriers to treatment, there must also be a change in the Black community to foster improved perceptions of mental health services. Another barrier for mental health treatment is the lack of African American therapists. For some individuals, it is important to have a therapist that looks like them [4]. Given therapists are often White, some African Americans may be more likely to avoid treatment. If we have more providers of color, Black men may feel that their plight is better understood and therapists may better understand the dynamics faced by Black men living in the social and political system of America.

Given the importance of mental health on our functioning in society (e.g., relationships, job performance) it is paramount that we identity ways to improve treatment seeking. Some emerging work by scholars at the University of Michigan has used Facebook to understand Black men’s attitudes towards mental health [2]. In their study, participants reported that the Facebook intervention was acceptable and it provided thought provoking content that opened Black men’s eyes to mental health issues. More importantly, the intervention appeared effective and produced lower depression ratings after completion. According to Dr. Daphne Watkins and her co-authors, the intervention appeared to be a welcoming and a nonjudgmental space for Black men. It allowed an opportunity to safely disclose information and have access to culturally sensitive mental health resources. As we move forward to addressing the mental health of Black men, we need to strongly consider incorporating the voices of Black men in research on mental health. This is vital to improving the use of treatment and the lives of Black men in America.

References:

1. Thorn, G. R., & Sarata, B. P. (1998). Psychotherapy with African American men: What we know and what we need to know. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 26(4), 240-251.

2. Watkins, D. C., Allen, J. O., Goodwill, J. R., & Noel, B. (2016). Strengths and weaknesses of the young Black men, masculinities, and mental health (YBMen) Facebook project. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/ort0000229

3. Geller, A., Fagan, J., Tyler, T., & Link, B. G. (2014). Aggressive policing and the mental health of young urban men. American Journal Of Public Health, 104(12), 2121-2127

4. Turner, E.A., Cheng, H., Llamas, J., Tran, A. T., Hill, K., Fretts, J.M., & Mercado, A. (2016). Factors impacting the current trends in the use of outpatient psychiatric treatment among diverse ethnic groups. Current Psychiatry Reviews, 12(2), 199-220.

5. Watkins, D. C., & Neighbors, H. W. (2007). An initial exploration of what ‘mental health’ means to young black men. Journal of Men's Health and Gender, 4(1), 271-282.

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.

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