Black MENtal Health
4 Tips to Promote Wellness.
Although mental health challenges affect everyone regardless of race/ethnicity, gender, and other cultural factors, Black men may face additional psychosocial stressors and systemic barriers compared to other groups. For instance, it is well-documented that this population experiences lower quality healthcare services, disproportionate neighborhood stressors (e.g., poor housing, lack of resources, and violence), economic disparities (e.g., poverty and unemployment), and systemic racism. Today, the accumulation of generational trauma, COVID-19, social unrest, police brutality, and other stressors may further exacerbate these challenges.
Due to these concerns, research indicates that Black men are at high risk for adverse mental health outcomes relative to other ethnicities. For instance, statistics indicate that Black adults are more likely to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness compared to White adults. Furthermore, the death rate from suicide for Black men was more than four times greater than for Black women. Additionally, among Black men, the prevalence of depression concurrent with substance use disorders has increased over the years from 9.49% to 21.34%.
How do we address these ongoing issues? One step may be for us to first recognize and normalize talking about mental health and wellness.
Stress is certainly a normal part of our lives, and can be an important catalyst of growth and performance. However, when stress becomes difficult to mange, this may be negatively impactful to our overall well-being. As Black men, if we can be more aware of the common signs of poor stress management, then conquering our stressors may become a bit more feasible. When stress feels overwhelming, it can impact us physically, mentally, and socially. Physically, we may notice disruption to our sleep patterns, loss of appetite or overeating, which can lead to lower energy and more frequent sickness. We may experience emotional or psychological distress, leading to anger, low motivation, anxiety, or even hopelessness. Furthermore, when chronically distressed, we may socially withdraw, isolate, or disengage in activities we once enjoyed. When these responses add onto the original stressors, it can begin to feel unmanageable for some.
According to Dr. Sue Varma, discussing “The Four Ms of Mental Health" can be helpful to mitigate stress and improve well-being.
1. Meaningful Connection
Establishing meaningful connections with others is a valuable tool to improve well-being and mitigate stress. This is especially important for Black men because the prevalence of the mental health stigma in Black communities, as well as the hesitation for men to talk about their emotional experiences, may contribute to isolation and suffering in silence. Black men may have not been told how to adequately process and talk about their emotional experiences, and there may be societal pressure to conform to traditional gender norms of masculinity. If individuals choose to display emotional vulnerability, this may be perceived as a sign of weakness. Therefore, reaching out to someone you trust who will be non-judgmental, can help with promoting resiliency. Additionally, meaningful connection can also involve one finding comfort in the presence of a companion animal or pet. This connection may be helpful when experiencing distress. Ultimately, no matter who or what you choose to seek connection with, it is important to be proactive in building and maintaining these relationships. Although this doesn’t always come easily, strong relationships can be a powerful buffer against stress.
Engaging in mastery involves focusing on your strengths and positive attributes. For instance, when feeling down it may be helpful to reflect on past times of resilience. Hard times can sometimes feel never-ending. Thinking back on experiences in which you have overcame, for instance passing a challenging academic course, being the first in your family to attend college, or finishing a tough competition, can enhance your motivation to endure the current moment. Additionally, engaging in activities that you enjoy can help reduce stress and improve your mood when feeling anxious, angry, or down. Don’t know where to start? Then think about an activity in which time flies by when you are fully immersed in it. Whatever that is for you, engaging in this task can help you feel more energized and confident.
Additionally, practicing mindfulness can be useful. Being mindful of our emotions helps us differentiate between what is and what is not in our control. When experiencing distress, it may be easy for us to only focus on what is going wrong. Therefore, each day reflect on one aspect that you are thankful for in your life. It can be simply displaying gratitude that you have funds to purchase necessities during a time of economic uncertainty. Whatever it is, focusing on what is currently in your control, while also practicing gratitude may help to further promote resilience.
The final M of mental wellness is engaging in movement. Movement involves both physical and mental activity to help manage our stress. Physically, incorporating short walks, stretching, or doing a few push-ups each day may be helpful. We all get to choose how we exercise our mental wellness, whether it be sharing our thoughts with someone we trust, reading self-help material, engaging in meditation or prayer, or simply taking time to sit in silence. Whatever we do, it should be regular and intentional.
Despite the stigma that persists in Black communities, seeking help to enhance your mental wellness is not a sign of weakness, instead it is a sign of strength, confidence, and resilience. Implementing the “The Four Ms of Mental Health", being vulnerable when you recognize signs of stress, and reaching out for support can help Black men navigate challenges better when they arise. You are not alone and here are some additional resources to preserve your MENtal wellness.
The information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, and those seeking personal medical advice should consult with a licensed provider. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider regarding a medical condition.
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CDC. (2019). Summary Health Statistics: National Health Interview Survey: 2017. Table A-7. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis/shs/tables.htm
National Center for Health Statistics (US. (2018). Health, United States, 2017: with special
feature on mortality.
Ward, E., & Mengesha, M. (2013). Depression in African American men: a review of what we know and where we need to go from here. The American journal of orthopsychiatry, 83(2 Pt 3), 386–397. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajop.12015
Originally published on Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/leadership-diversity-and-wellness/202012/lovers-and-friends
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