“He’s just attention seeking” ,“this is not how serious people commit suicide”, “smh he crazy”
A cry for help
The ignorance and insensitivity reflected in these statements paints a particularly murky picture of the reactions flooding boxer and aspiring rapper Adrien Broner’s timeline after he shared cryptic posts on the afternoon of October 12th, implying he wanted to end his life. The first post being a dark canvas with the words “3pm I’m doing it I’m sorry to my family and friends but I don’t want to be here no more...[it’s] too much” and despondently captioned “Sorry”. The post was followed by an equally worrying image of a gun, with the accompanying caption “I’m going home I love yall”. Things took a sinister turn when The Game’s manager, Wack 100, responded via a vile post on his Instagram - “what you waiting for...do that sh*t !!! ... Here’s the steps. 1. grab the pistol 2. Cock it 3. Place it at your temple 4. Call yourself a bitch coward n**** 5. Pull the trigger !!! Now come on let’s go” – seemingly making fun of the scary situation and implying Broner’s public meltdown was a sign of weakness. Many Instagram users echoed the same sentiments, one boldly stating “If broner really wanted to off himself hr [sic] wouldn’t jump on snapchat to announce it lol. Wack100 sees that so he aint [sic] falling for his bluff. Yall too sensitive”.
The tough conversation
Although Broner’s fiancé Arienne Gazaway, updated his fans via Snapchat assuring “he’s okay”, the recent reaction reinforces the fact that the tough conversation regarding the stigma of mental illness in the black community is one that still needs to be had. Why is it that the majority of our people think these self evident cries for help is “attention seeking”? Why is there a stream of ‘crying laughing’ emojis under the post, as if it was a light hearted matter – a joke? Why do the majority of our community sweep the reality of mental illness under the rug? The proof is in the pudding. Earlier this year, as singer Kehlani went through a similar situation, she was decried and labelled an “attention seeking whore” and was further victimised by incessant hateful messages on every social media platform. Chris Brown went as far to say this was a “ploy” to garner “sympathy” and she was “flexing for the gram”. Similarly, Kid Cudi, who admitted himself into rehab earlier this month said he was “ashamed” of his illness, and although he got a wave of warmth and support from industry peers and social media users (unlike Kehlani), it doesn’t change the fact that he was in shame and “living a lie”, abusing alcohol and other substances for years in order to drown his depression, due to the stigma attached to black mental illness.
Throughout childhood the majority of us are saddled with specific ideologies we are expected to follow in order to navigate and survive through the harsh realities of the world. The main ideologies being: ‘The Ultra Masculine Black Man’ and ‘The Strong Black Woman’. While men are expected to “confront [the] hardships of life without allowing their spirits to be ravaged [all the while] not assuming a “poor me” victim identity” and live a life that was “defined by individual black males daring to self-define rather than be defined by others” (as stated in Bell Hooks’ 2004 book ‘We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity) black women were expected to build a tough exterior to shrug off racism, patriarchy, misogynoir (misogyny targeting black women), poverty and countless other obstacles life presented. Hooks’ cites “as black people in a white-supremacist culture we have had a psychohistory of learning to utterly hide or repress our vulnerability in order to survive...[but] black folks have wrongly interpreted invulnerability as a sign of emotional strength. Maintaining this survival strategy... has damaged our emotional and intimate bonds”. With this being said, these ideologies we’re programmed with at an early age has harmed us in the long run, causing the majority of us to believe that expressing emotion is a sign of weakness, making it even harder for black people with mental illnesses to talk about it freely, without judgement. A 2008 study found that one-third of African Americans believe talking about their anxiety would lead to them being called “crazy”. Some also believe the mental health care practitioners are not culturally aware enough to understand their plight and help find solutions. Monnica T Williams of Psychology Today cites African Americans archetypal view of the everyday psychologist is an “older, white male, who would be insensitive to the social and economic realities of their lives”.
“Pray it away”
Of all racial and ethnic groups in the US, black people are the most religious, with 70% saying religion plays an important role in their lives. The American Psychiatry Association cites 85% of African Americans handle stress through prayer, essentially using it as a means of counselling instead of actively seeking professional help - 50% of them believing prayer alone is enough to combat mental illness. Although it has been proven that faith aides mental health and reduces stress levels, it only contributes to one part of the treatment process for mental illness.
Changing the way we think today to make way for a better tomorrow
It takes time to rewrite and reprogramme the ideas and stigmas that pollute and devolve our community, but it’s important to foster an open, non judgemental and accepting climate where individuals can feel empowered to openly discuss their feelings and seek support without fear of being labelled. Food for thought.
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