Social Stigma Against Black Men and Mental Health

After engaging in an onstage rant and ending his concert prematurely, it was reported in November that rapper Kanye West had suffered a “nervous breakdown.” After going on a lengthy tirade about a personal conflict with Jay-Z and Beyoncé, West warned, “Get ready to have a field day press, ‘cause the show’s over,” dropped the microphone, and walked offstage. While the rapper’s antics have become rather commonplace and even expected, something was different this time. This time was different because he was immediately admitted to a hospital – reportedly for a psychiatric evaluation – thus, bringing about a nationwide conversation about mental health and black men to the forefront.

Many people have mixed reactions when it comes to Kanye West. Some believe that he is a musical genius, even a god of sorts, while others simply view him as being an arrogant jerk. Thus, it was not surprising when the story broke and was immediately met with varying responses by social media users. While some created memes, joked that the breakdown must have been a result of “the Kardashian curse,” and argued that the whole thing was simply a publicity stunt, others (namely other celebrities) quickly offered up their support for West by starting the hashtag #PrayForYe and sending him their well wishes.

These responses almost mirror those received by Kid Cudi just one month prior, when he checked himself into a rehab facility in order to deal with his issues related to depression and drug addiction. However, unlike Kanye West, Kid Cudi was met with a diss by fellow rapper Drake on his track “Two Birds One Stone,” in which he raps, “You stay xan and perked up so when reality set in you don’t gotta face it.”

Black male rap artists have always explored and discussed mental health in their music. Kanye West has multiple songs about falling into depression after his mother’s passing, as well as one song referencing to taking the antidepressant Lexapro. Kendrick Lamar has also rapped about struggling with his own suicidal thoughts, as well. Thus, while Drake’s diss on Kid Cudi is disappointing, it is not particularly surprising when one considers the stigma surrounding depression and mental health in the black community. Mental illness is still overtly viewed as being a weakness, rather than a disease. It is a harsh stigma, and one that results in black men like Kanye West and Kid Cudi keeping their struggles to themselves out of fear of being judged by other black family and friends – peers such as Drake, per se.

The fact of the matter is that society’s expectations of masculinity can often be strict and binding. Oftentimes, black men might feel as though not seeing a therapist or seeking help for their problems is a sign of their strength, when in actuality, they are only hurting themselves in the process. Thus, the primary issue appears to be that while black men (e.g. Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Kid Cudi) are aware and knowledgeable about their own mental health issues, there is a negative social stigma holding them back from seeking the help they need and causing them to wait until the last possible moment, such as a nervous breakdown. The stereotype of the hyper-masculine black man is nothing new or revolutionary, but it is time to leave it in the past, especially when it comes to mental health. People of all races, genders, and backgrounds suffer from mental illness, so it is time for those with powerful voices (e.g. Drake) to stop ridiculing those who suffer from it. Perhaps once it starts being viewed as acceptable for black male celebrities to experience mental illness, it will become a chain reaction and allow for the general population to follow suit.

Why are black men unwilling to seek help for their mental health and what are the consequences of this?

2 thoughts on “Social Stigma Against Black Men and Mental Health”

  1. Ashley, this post was very informative as I did not know Kid Cudi and Kendrick Lamar were also struggling with their mental health. I think hyper-masculinity is always present with wanting to be the “most manly”, and there is more pressure for Black men who believe they have a reputation to live up to to be strong and unbreakable. I agree with you that they have strong voices and hopefully they can demonstrate to the public that mental illness is not a weakness. It’s unfortunate that they do not seek the help that they need.

  2. There seems to be a masculinity threat brought on by mental illness and I’d imagine that the effect is greater for men of color because there is more pressure for men of color to be manly. It is sad because the stigma keeps so many people from getting help. Hopefully, Kanye will set a stigma ending example.

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