May is the month of new beginnings. Flowers and trees which have laid dormant for months start to show signs of life again and brilliantly bloom. May is also mental health awareness month. It’s an excellent opportunity to raise the awareness about the emotional and mental health of black men. For the last several months, I have been interviewing and convening black men from all walks of life about how they are handling the challenges of life. I am interested in how they are managing life because my team and I are working feverishly to build Henry, a new digital app, and platform to provide self-care support and mental health services to black men.
We have a serious problem that everyone seems to know about, but it’s not discussed often. I have been touched by the stories that have been shared with me. Just a few days ago, I attended a conference in Washington, DC. I met a man and told him about our plans for Henry Health. He seemed mildly impressed but the next morning, from the main platform, he talked about our conversation and a childhood friend who seemingly had it all but committed suicide in the midst of a very stressful period. This is just one of the stories I have heard, and there are many others.
The data tells us that 30.6 percent of men have suffered from a period of depression in their lifetime. What I know for sure is life will happen. My grandmother use to say, “Just keep livin.” Children will act out of line, marriages will be challenged, jobs will come to an unexpected end, and loved ones will die untimely. There is nothing that we can do to avoid the challenges of life. I think it is vital that we begin to reframe emotional and mental health to include a discussion about the day to day challenges of life. Too often, people are attempting to navigate the challenges of life without the help that they need. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, African American & Hispanic Americans use mental health services at about 1/2 the rate of whites. Seeking help to handle the challenges of life is #NotAWeakness, seeking help shows one’s strength and should be celebrated.
There is also another dynamic that black men have to deal with, the sociological pressures of being a black man in America. My therapist once said to me, every conscious black man in America needs to be in therapy. I don’t think of his statement as some cheap sales pitch to grow his practice. I think he’s right. When you consider the fact that black men have the lowest life expectancy of any group in this country and the impact of stress on the body, there is no debate about what stress is doing to us. It is literally killing us. Stress in itself is a good thing, but chronic stress starts to have a negative impact on our emotional, mental and physical health. According to the American Psychological Association, “Chronic stress, or a constant stress experienced over a prolonged period of time, can contribute to long-term problems for heart and blood vessels. The consistent and ongoing increase in heart rate, and the elevated levels of stress hormones and of blood pressure, can take a toll on the body. This long-term ongoing stress can increase the risk for hypertension, heart attack or stroke.” These conditions are found at higher rates among black men.
At Henry Health, we believe that we have a solution to this problem. Our digital app and platform will not only offer culturally sensitive teletherapy to black men, but we also recognize that health outcomes are influenced by many factors including diet, physical activity, setting reasonable goals, and managing stress. So we’ll leverage technology to help men take better care of themselves. We have set some lofty goals for Henry. However, our most important moonshot is to add years to the life expectancy of black men. We’re also confident that we can add quality to the lives of black men. May is the month of new beginnings. Let it also be a time to break the silence about the emotional and mental health of black men. Talking about emotional and mental health is #NotAWeakness, it’s a sign of strength.