Sunday Manifest: Black Men, Take Care of Your Mental Health

There have been a slate of suicides, of sudden deaths, orbiting about. We can look around us, around at the world at-large, and the disconnect can feel paramount. Twitter feeds run rampant with the effects of depression and prescriptive anecdotes on uncovering the warning signs of friends and neighbors—the oft-used “we didn’t know” singing through the air. With all the talk surrounding health, considering this month being National Men’s Health month, the conversation surrounding mental health in the community is a heavy one.

There will be posts with tips, hotlines to call, teachings on ways to cope and deal when afflicted with harmful thoughts, or when you are the friend in support of the friend suffering. And all of these matter. Our health has become the central part of that lens we now use to view world events, and the events of our lives, more clearly. However, for a large swath of the population, those primarily in urban areas where the stigma around talking about mental health is still ever present, accessing the tools to offset the things that endanger our mental care can prove to be difficult.

The old adage goes “You don’t know what you don’t know.” How do you access therapy or wellness? How do you know which tools to utilize if you are not in a space to receive them? As men, there is a conditioning here, the idea of “manning up,” of being “too soft;” the notion that the accumulation of things, the right set of accomplished goals and net worth will lead to some level of “happiness.” We can look no further than the suicide of Anthony Bourdain to understand that reaching a certain level of wealth, of fame, is not indicative of a settled life, of balance, of happy. Jay Z’s “4:44” album dealt with the perils of money and fame, and how the eventual quest of everything, especially as a Black man in America, can potentially lead to losing everything.

Shifting the paradigm of manhood, what it actually means to be a “man,” will have to play a large part in how we view mental wellness and health, if we want to see change in the people we love, including ourselves. How we eat and exercise, how we talk to ourselves, how we handle conflict and stress, how we communicate with those in our circles—these are all central within the scope of our healing, and detangling the construct of masculinity. Reframing our approach, the need/want dichotomy of capitalistic structure, so that our manhood is not tied to things or people: a car, a house, money, or women. Mental wellness is possible, the stability we secretly crave but are afraid to speak out loud to is possible. Part of our process will be confronting the terror of not feeling like enough. “Reaching out,” can be easily seen as not being manly; admittance to hurt, to pain, can be seen as faults, flaws, as weakness. Being vulnerable, the willingness to lean into what being “soft” actually means, and the freedom that can lie and letting go of a fixed notion of what being a man means today, starts with us, here and now.

Our lives depend on it.

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Joél Leon is a father, dreamer and storyteller. Follow him @joelleon.

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