IT WAS a late summer night in Claremont, California when it happened. My homeboy, Ronnel, and I decided to get a midnight snack after hours of studying for our finals.
We pulled up to the Taco Bell drive-through to get our fix of Mexican fast food and decided to park and eat in the empty parking lot, something we typically refrained from doing.
It didn’t take long before we were blinded by the flashing lights and the sound of the whaling noise of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). I looked around with confusion. What did we do? Silence.
The officer approached the car and asked for Ronnel’s driver’s license. He complied with no questions. Why are we being stopped? What did we do officer? The officer ignored all my requests, focusing his questioning on Ronnel.
To my shock and disgust, the officer began scanning the car with his torchlight and then came back to the driver’s side to ask Ronnel if he was carrying marijuana? The officer insisted we get out of the car while he searched for himself.
The Black Lives Matter movement was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Ronnel was silent throughout the illegal stop and search, only answering when spoken. My friend, who was a tall heavy-built African American man with a lively and outspoken spirit had been reduced to a fragile shell at the hands of the officer. I distinctly remember his face, expressionless but, his eyes were full of rage. The kind only found in injustice. I was beside myself.
This was not the first time Ronnel had experienced systemic racism and stigma. He is not the only one. Many black men have had to cope with the systemic confines of racism, profiling, and microaggression at the hands of authorities which, has led to increased mental health and suicide rates.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, 20% of African Americans are more likely to have serious psychological distress than whites are. Moreover, suicide is the leading cause of death for black men ages 15 to 24, and that on a whole, black men aged 18 to 44 who had daily feelings of anxiety or depression were less likely to seek out mental health services than their white counterparts.
What does this tell you? Black men’s mental health is the next pandemic. With the rise of Covid and the Black Lives Matter movement unveiling the grim reality of being a black man in America, as the world was forced to sit and watch the brutal killing of George Floyd, pleading for his life at the hands of the law, a story that has been occurring on silent replay.
The Black Lives Matter movement was the straw that broke the camel’s back – the echo of deep-seated pain, frustration and mental fragility felt by black men in America and throughout the world.
According to Mental Health America, stigma and judgment prevent black communities from seeking treatment for their mental illnesses as well as worry that health care practitioners are not culturally competent enough to treat their specific issues.
The question now is what can be done to ensure that black men’s voices are heard. Their mental wellbeing is prioritized and serviced? Therapy alone is not going to fix the mental decline if the system is designed to discourage discussion.
Building trust and rapport before diagnosis and treatment will be critical in creating a sense of safety for black men dealing with mental health issues, especially arising from police brutality.
Building trust and rapport before diagnosis and treatment will be critical in creating a sense of safety for black men dealing with mental health issues.
The need for culturally appropriate therapy, counselling and coaching services and safe spaces for black men and boys to explore who they are, unapologetically will play a key role in changing the mental health narrative.
Furthermore, cultivating self-awareness through daily mindfulness practices, such as reflection and positive self-talk will open up the communication pathway to mental wellbeing.
In the end, it is our collective responsibility to listen to the silent discomfort and act to shift the narrative of pain to wellbeing.
Aden Eyob, the CEO of Mind Medication.