I would like to applaud the Ed Lover, Rickey Smiley, and KD Bowe Morning shows for asking me to join their morning radio shows to discuss Black men and mental health in lieu of the recent psychiatric hospitalization of rapper, Kanye West, after he displayed erratic behavior at a his concert. I also applaud rappers such as Kid Cudi, Eminem, Scarface, DMX, and countless other rappers who have shined the light on mental illness and men through their music and/or public statements. I jumped at the opportunity to give these interviews because I feel a strong calling to give men, especially Black men, permission to be “manly” in seeking counseling for our emotional pain and quest for peace of mind and true mental health.
Many men have been brainwashed to think that counseling, therapy and/or asking for help for legitimate emotional pain is unmanly, punkish and/or a sign of male weakness. However, I would like to present three short arguments as to why I feel that seeking counseling is actually the manliest thing that we can do when facing stress, emotional issues and life changes.
1. Men Have Feelings Too
From my eighteen years of conducting counseling and having working relationships with thousands of men over my lifetime, I would bet that at least one in three have serious emotional pain that has not been properly dealt with. This world can be a very cruel place and many men struggle with dealing with unresolved emotional and psychological pain. The issues can range from childhood abuse, abandonment issues, absent fathers, loss of family, witnessing violence, failed relationships, feelings of inadequacy and/or shame related to money, career, divorce, family relationships, etc. These issues can manifest as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, angry outbursts, sleep problems, psychotic symptoms, substance abuse issues, etc. In short, men have issues galore that must be dealt with to truly achieve mental health.
2. Why You Should Talk About It
As a man, I get it. You’re thinking…why should I talk about things I don’t want to think about? Maybe you are thinking, “What’s the point of crying over spilled milk, especially if it won’t change anything?” Here’s the quick and straight to the point answer…because the pain is real and you will never be able to get over it without first admitting that you were hurt deeply. I always trump to “doing the harder thing” as a good indicator of manhood. So here’s the question. Which one is harder? Keeping your feelings inside or talking about them? Most men would agree that talking about pain is far more difficult because it forces us to go back to places and deal with feelings that we would rather forget. However, remember, it’s not what we say that controls us but what we cannot talk about that dooms and controls us. Pain must be released, acknowledged and talk about for it to lose its intensity and control over our emotions. If physical injuries require surgery, rehabilitation and treatment to properly heal why would the approach be any different when it comes to emotional, mental pain? Talking about pain is the surgery and counseling is literally the rehabilitation and treatment phase. My brothers, go get healed so that you don't carry your pain around for the rest of your life.
3.Not Seeking Counseling Hurts Those We Love
As a man, you owe it to yourself to be real and deal with your pain so that it does not transfer to your loved ones. I get it. You think that you can deal with it inside but really, brothers, you can’t. The pain you have experienced inevitably will seep out and negatively impact your relationship with your spouse, children, work, and even your own physical and mental health. Although we may choose to try and put our pain away in a psychological drawer and close it, the reality is that it is still there waiting… waiting on a trigger- maybe someone makes you feel inadequate, shames you, touches you a certain way, threatens to leave you, belittles you, Father’s day, Mother’s Day, an anniversary of a loved one’s death (as in the case of Kanye West) that sets you off and inevitable spills out on those whom you care about the most. Pain is real and our feelings about that pain are real too. So, I urge and applaud you to be proactive, listen to your wife, girlfriend, mom, friends, support group who have been begging you to go to counseling for awhile now. Take the step to talk about what you once could not. You can be free of the pain and live to heal, smile and love another day.
4. How To Get Men To Open Up and Talk
Quick note. Be careful when asking a man if he is “good” in trying to assess how he is truly feeling. This, in itself, is a leading question and implies that he is "good". Abandon asking him how he is doing too? He is pre-programmed often answer with, “I’m good, cool, straight, etc.” Instead, ask him the following question:
“Bro, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being terrible and 10 being amazing, how do you feel today about life and your overall happiness?”
Watch what happens next… you are much more likely to get a real answer. If he says, “I’m a 5”, follow up and ask what makes him a 5. Don't try to fix his pain...just listen and allow him to vent for as long as he needs. Then, ask him what needs to get to at least a 7/8? You’ll see that men do have pain but need the question to be asked in a different way in order to open up. If you find yourself being concerned by his answers quickly encourage him to go get rid of the pain by going to counseling. A great national resource is www.psychologytoday.com where you can go to “Therapist Finder” to select a qualified counselor who would to help. You're a man have the world on your shoulders. Call a counselor, psychologist, therapist, minister, etc. right now and lighten your load. What an awesome experience it is to have a trained professional listen to your feelings, pain, and issues with full confidentiality and help you to recover to live, smile and love another day. Personally, I think it's the manliest thing that you can ever do for yourself my brothers. I love you dearly! God Bless!