As a Black man, psychologist and former resident of the island, I have been given this platform to speak candidly on the mental health of Black men.
Firstly, let’s have a look at how Black men are treated in society. Young Black men are more likely to be unemployed than their counterparts, and those in full time employment are paid less than those with similar qualifications. Black men are also massively overrepresented in prisons and are 26% more likely than white men to be remanded in custody. Despite what these facts suggest, Black men are not inherently less able, or more dangerous than anyone else. Instead, these outcomes are the result of an insidiously racist system which discriminates against Black men in every facet of life (through implicit biases and the perpetuation negative stereotypes). This consistent level of struggle has a negative effect on mental health and reduces the ability for Black men to access support services needed.
Over the past few years, people have started to talk more openly about mental health. While this is a positive step, we need to remember to include Black men in the conversation. Concisely illustrating the multitude of factors that contribute to poor mental health in Black men is an incredibly complicated task. One factor however, is the treatment of Black men in the healthcare system. Here Black people are four times more likely to be sectioned than White people. This is due in part, to a lack of cultural awareness, ethnic bias and barriers in accessing healthcare services.
Not only do Black men face difficulties accessing support for mental health issues, they are often unable to talk about these issues with families or peers. In many Black communities, mental health concerns do not hold the same legitimacy as physical health. Growing up in an environment where mental health is stigmatised, people are less likely to acknowledge their difficulty and/or reach out to healthcare services for support. This process often results in unhealthy coping mechanisms and/or presenting to healthcare services with more severe needs.
2020 has been a difficult year for most, with COVID-19 and the resurgence of Black Lives Matter movement at the forefront. It is now more important than ever to open up discussions about mental health with friends and family, particularly within the Black community. The callous murder of George Floyd will have been a significant event for all Black people, reigniting previously suppressed trauma.
You might be wondering what can we do to improve mental health in Black men? We must continue to speak openly on mental health struggles and recognise when to seek appropriate support. One of the key things though, is to have open and honest conversations about racism. Racism a chronic disease that both the UK and the island have always suffered from. Only now are people starting to acknowledge its existence, which is a small step in the right direction. To deny the existence of racism is to deny the lived experience of every Person of Colour.