Updated: Apr 16, 2020
Big Sean, Taraji P. Henson, J. Cole, you, and me…what do all of these people have in common? We all have been affected directly or indirectly by mental illness. For some time, mental health was not viewed as that something that was "our problem". However, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US, and African Americans are not immune to this epidemic. Suicide rates for African American children ages 5-12 are two times higher than those of their Caucasian counterparts, and recent studies by the Suicide Prevention Research Center show that young black males are most at risk. It's beyond time to address this dangerous misconception as a community.
Celebrities like Big Sean and Henson have decided to publicly speak about their own struggles with mental illness, but they have also taken it a step further by advocating for others as well. Big Sean recently reported that he took a year off from his music career to prioritize his mental health. He hosted a mental health panel sponsored by his Sean Anderson Foundation and returned to music asking “What have you done for yourself? What have you done for your mental health?” In his new song “Single Again,” his lyrics place value on mental wellness over being in a relationship. J. Cole went against the grain and dedicated an entire album, Kids On Drugs to address the overly glorified trend of self-medication in lieu of actually processing trauma in a healthy way. In late 2018, Taraji P. Henson created a mental health foundation, Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, in honor of her late father who also battled with mental illness. She has been speaking all around the country advocating for equal access to treatment for African American youth.
So what does that mean for us regular folks? Well the normalcy of mental health treatment being discussed in African American music, movies; and television has created a large transition in our culture. We are slowly but steadily moving away from the old adage of “just pray about it” and moving more towards publicly saying “Girl, I love my therapist!”
As a therapist, I get excited when my people unapologetically post online about their mental health. Millennials, Generation Xers and even some Baby Boomers are viewing therapy as common as visiting your OBGYN, minus the uncomfortable stirrups.
Being more open about mental health issues online sounds like a HUGE step in the right direction, right? Right!
Unfortunately, social media is also where people go if they “don’t need a therapist.” Recently, boxer Adrien Broner posted a series of alarming stories on Instagram that appeared to be a cry for help. Some may say, “Well, maybe he just had a bad day.” However; in 2016 and again in May 2019 he made suicidal posts online that were later deleted. Those IG stories may disappear after 24 hours, but no amount of money or celebrity status can make those feelings disappear.
Social media has quickly become the most popular place to have a mental breakdown so it's imperative that we are diligent in paying attention to how we respond to these types of post online. Let's do more than give a thumbs up, double tap, or event a prayerful comment. Take it a step further and actually reach out. We're making progress but we still have a lot more work to do in addressing mental illness and raising awareness in our communities.
Hopefully, we can keep this therapy train rolling so that we not only recognize our need for treatment, but the need for our children as well. Some may see therapy as a trend or a wave, but if that helps us to heal our trauma and learn healthy ways to cope, this therapist is riding the wave and driving the boat. Let’s continue to have these open conversations on social media, with our friends, with our children, and even in line at Popeye’s!
As published by http://upscalemagazine.com October 2019.
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National Suicide hotline 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to Crisis Text Line at 741-741