Breaking the Stigma: Empowering Black men to prioritize their mental health

It can be a silent pain many Black men go through. The pain of depression and other life pressures which contribute to mental health issues. Traditional upbringings have taught Black men to be strong while wearing their cape of masculinity, often keeping their emotions tapped down tight inside.

From the COVID pandemic, which has taken a toll on most Americans, to the consequences of systematic racism and police brutality, which have taken further tolls on the Black community, tolls that have had a tremendous impact on Back men who aren’t always open to share what mental challenges they may be encountering. Media images of violence and police brutality depicted in the media against Blacks brings on another added toll and mental consequences.

“Traumatic events related to racism have been unrelenting for Blacks,” said Angela Neal-Barnett, PhD, professor of psychology and the director of the Program for Research on Anxiety Disorders among African-Americans at Kent State University in Ohio. “In good times racism is a stressor; in bad times racism is trauma,” she said, according to a published report in Every Day Health.


“As a Black man, you’re taught to be strong, brush it off,” said Dr. Michele Leno, clinical psychologist and TV host. “But I’ve noticed more men are starting to seek treatment.”


“We always start talking about something needs to be done, but this is where eliminating that stigma would be a big benefit because if we talk about mental health and the importance of it on a daily basis, then it becomes soon, no big deal.”

Leno said everyone must play a role in paying attention to people who may be showing signs of mental health illness. The solution to addressing the depression and anxieties that exist amongst Black me, doesn’t mean only pouring money after the problem, she added.

“Men don’t want to be seen as weak, and in the workplace, you may have people who gossip about someone being in therapy, all because people don’t understand. They see it as a weakness and who wants to be seen as weak.

“We must first be willing to eliminate our own ignorance.”

She finds it’s important as a society that we eliminate the stigma that is associated with Black men seeking help for their mental health.

“Just the same way you go to the doctor for a broken leg or a broken arm, stomachache or headache, sometimes you must be willing to address your mind in that same way.”

A part of the solution for Black men becoming more open to embracing their mental well-being is undoing some of the narratives and traditional ideas of how a Black man is to and were to handle their stressors.

“I love when you have athletes and professionals who are Black men and they say it’s okay,”  Leno added that this creates an opening for young Black men to have someone to be inspired by, therefore creating the opportunity and space to break down barriers.

“In the household, this is whether the trauma starts or where the magic happens. When a parent’s young son starts to cry about because they’re injured or their feelings are hurt, you have to let them know it’s okay.”

Now Leno points out that no one wants a crying boy all day and that learning to manage emotions are important, but also stresses the importance of balance.

“A lot of times men are growing up in households where there is no balance. We have to redefine what it means to be strong. The strong person is insightful. The strong person has enough insight to know they need some help and they say I need to cry by myself or go to the gym to relieve stress. That is being strong. Strong is not pretending all the time that there is nothing wrong with you.”


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