Suffering in Silence: Depression in African American Males
Depression is African American males is a growing concern. With so many elephants in the room, it is amazing that Blacks in America can function in even the slightest sense normalcy. One of the most prevalent realities that take up so much of our space and air is depression.
While it has been well-documented that Black women struggle with depression, the fact that depression among Black males is grossly underreported creates an impression that Black men don’t struggle with mental health issues in any statistically significant way. However, the truth is that Black men are suffering in silence.
Many Black men have been reared in an environment in which they were
taught that asking for help or admitting that they are struggling in any way is
a sign of weakness. This erroneous belief leads to millions of Black men
suffering in silence until they reach the point of a psychotic break.
For Black men
out there who are suffering from long bouts of sadness that last more than a
couple of weeks, you may be suffering from depression. It is okay to talk to
someone about what you are feeling. It is not a sign of weakness but a
mechanism of wellness.
Many of us grew
up with the erroneous concept or idea that mental illness and depression only
impacted white people; however, each year more than 19 million Americans suffer
from some form of depression (Staff, 2019). It should be noted
that African Americans are disproportionately represented in these numbers.
When I wrote Born
in Captivity: Psychopathology as a Legacy of Slavery, I invested a great
deal of time in unpacking this enigmatic issue and how it has impacted the
Black collective. I also offer pragmatic solutions to these burdensome issues.
Bell Hooks, the lack of authentic love and acceptance that Black men face often
leads to an emotional crisis (Hooks, 2004). Many of us have not
been taught how to process and talk about our emotional experiences. It is this
gap in verbal articulation that leads to the furthering of the sense of anger,
isolation, and resentment. The inability to effectively address these issues
leads to heightened emotional volatility, which often manifests in aggression
When we observe
these emotional outbursts, we generally meet them with ridicule but rarely
assess the source. Unrealistic expectations based primarily on gender, can inhibit
many Black men from seeking therapy. Think about the common assessment that
Black men don’t like asking for directions when they are lost — now imagine how
difficult it is for them to audibly speak the words, “I think I need some help.”
In a world in
which the Black man does not feel safe asking for help, how will he ever get
the help he needs to become whole? It is important to understand that mental
illnesses like depression are not simply a condition that impacts the mind but
have an immense impact on overall health outcomes of the those suffering from
the illness (Ward & Menghesha, 2013).
For those who
underestimate the devastating force of depression, the World Health
Organization estimates that in 2020, depression will be the leading cause of
disability in the world (Murray & Lopez, 1996). It is estimated that
as high as 10 percent of the Black male population struggles with depression on
an ongoing basis. It is worth noting that the actual numbers are likely significantly
higher being that Black men are not likely to report their bouts with
What is even
more frightening is the fact that the mentality that facilitates this
self-isolation by Black men is conditioning young Black males to behave in the
same manner. There is new and developing empirical evidence that suggests that
depression in Black boys starts much earlier than most people believe (Administrator,
From 2001 to 2015, the suicide risk for Black boys between the ages of 5 and 11
was two to three times higher than White boys (Administrator, 2018). This increased risk
is true for Black boys and Black girls. There are multitudinous variables that
contribute to this increase risks, including social and peer pressure, the
inability to relate or feel relevant, the lack of a safe space to admit how
they feel, etc.
There has to be
a focus on creating a safe space for Black men to be human and express the need
for help. No group faces the hostility that Black men face in the racial caste
system in the United States. This inherent hostility comes with immeasurable
At a time when
so many unrealistic expectations are being placed on young Black males, there
has to be a release valve through which they can relieve the pressure. There
has to be an honest and in-depth dialogue into the reality of the Black male
plight. It has become far too easy to pretend that we are cool and that nothing
bothers us. We make a good presentation, but very few people are aware of the
undercurrent raging beneath the surface, and few of us are even equipped to explain
what we are feeling adequately.
Blacks in the United
States have faced some of the most nefarious and pestilential devices and machinations
designed to render us ineffective — pushing forward with an inexorable intent
to survive. What we must be willing to admit is that the constant pressure of
simply surviving has taken its toll and we need healing.
To the Black
men who read this short treatise, know that it is okay to admit that you need
help. Find several men with whom you can confide. There are far too many of us
facing the pressures of being good husbands and fathers alone. We are social
creatures, and the less sociable we become, the more it impacts our psychological
equilibrium. This is why people start hallucinating when placed in solitary
nothing weak about asking for help. The best man is the whole man. It is time
for healing! ~ Rick Wallace, Ph.D., Psy.D.
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Below you will find resources that can help you,
including Mental Health services offered through The Odyssey Project!
If you need mental health services, you can contact The Odyssey Project at firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: (800) 273-TALK (8255)
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA)
American Psychiatric Association
International Foundation for Research and Education on
Administrator, J. (2018). Depression in Black Boys
Begins Earlier Than You Think. Psychology Benefits Society.
Caraballo, J.-E. (2018). Why Black Men FAce Greater
Mental Health Challenges. Talk Space.
Hooks, B. (2004). We Real Cool: Black Men and
Masculinity. New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.
Murray, C., & Lopez, A. (1996). Global Health
Statistics: A Compendiaum of Incidence, Prevalence and Mortality Estimates
for Over 200 Conditions. Harvard University Press.
Staff, E. (2019). Depression and African Americans. Mental
Ward, E., & Menghesha, M. (2013). Depression in
African American Men: A Review of What We Know and Where We Need to Go From
Here. National Institutes of Health, Am J Orthopsychiatry. 2013
Apr-Jul; 83(2 0 3): 386–397.