If you haven't watched this already, you are seriously missing out. "Black Boys can Cry" on ITV X is part of a documentary series called Fresh Cuts, created for Black History Month. Alex Beresford, the ITV presenter, explores mental health, particularly suicide from a black male perspective.
Why is this important?
because black men are as much as 10 times more likely to suffer from a severe mental health difficulties more than any other gender or ethnic group. By severe, I'm talking about things like psychosis, schizophrenia and PTSD. The one hour documentary touches on so many topics including depression, grief loss, suicide, identity and sexual identity, all of which are critical topics that we don't talk about enough when it comes to men.
Alex talks about his friend Martin and shares the experiences of the playwright Ryan Calais Cameron, rap artist Shocka and former footballer Marvin Sordell.
It is shocking to hear the experiences of Marvin who attempted to take his own life, was unsuccessful and went into work the next day- only to be perceived as moody. There were no questions asked about whether he was okay or what might be going on for him, he was just labelled as moody. That says a lot about how black men, are seen or not really in general when it comes to how they feel and their mental battles.
Hearing one of the men describing his experiences around medication, which for many people, is a lifeline in improving their mental health, reminds us once again about the barriers men are faced with when it comes to accessing help.
It was encouraging to watch Shocka describe his experience of seeing a psychiatrist for the first time.
Psychiatry is not really spoken about in the UK and to see a black psychiatrist is rarer still. But this field is crucial in understanding the more complex mental health difficulties and diagnoses such as schizophrenia or personality disorders like bipolar. Not only is it essential for clients to know about services like psychiatry, it is crucial for black men to see themselves represented in these positions and within these services too. In fact, how many black male nurses, male mental health first aiders, black male therapists or black male social workers have you seen? We know they exist but where do men find them when they need them most? and how do we ensure that they have encouragement and support to access their services?
Representation is key to breaking down stereotypes and stigma. This representation on screen, was also a significant moment as we got to witness Shocka understand another huge issue amongst black mental health- the lack of and misdiagnosis of people. Shocka left with clarity and better understanding about his experience, essentially summarising why it's so important for us to access services.
The documentary touches on the way that the black community can sometimes hinder an individuals ability to access help.
For example, a common reaction to mental health difficulties and symptoms is that they are a demonic or a spiritual attack. Even if this is the case, this open and shut reaction often leaves people with no solutions, no services to support them and more importantly no hope when the prayer and deliverance doesn't work. Another reaction is that these things don't exist, suggesting an individual is weak or doing something wrong. This too is unhelpful, only highlighting the fact that people don't really understand or know what to do.
Finally the documentary touches on sexual identity and the experience of being gay outwardly, on the down-low, or just coming out. These of course lead to another version of poor mental health issues. Which for many looks like homophobia, rejection, and isolation. The documentary said that the biggest cause of suicide amongst black gay people, is not being accepted. We can see that when we look within the black community. The very things that normally help people get through tough times, become the very, things that turn on you when you are black and gay- religion, family, community. Again, making it harder to be able to protect and maintain your mental health and flagging up another issue of toxic masculinity.
In summary, the documentary really highlights why it is difficult within the black community, specifically for men, to access services. There is a lack of trust, a lack of understanding and a lack of professionals in first response services; who respect black men and respect their lived experience.
It was a very light touch program, but it touched on a lot of important issues and helps to give us a broad sense of what could be going on for black men. So its vital to have these conversations.
As a black woman, it's really important to hear these experiences; it helps to understand where black men are coming from.
and what we can do as black women to support men within the community and our homes. Poor mental health can be triggered and influence by trauma, and this is something that we know but don't acknowledge enough. Institutional racism within services, the stop and search experience and over policing by the police, systemic racism and stereotyping within schools, all of these things are traumatic. And guess what young black boys turn into, black men. These negative experiences provide a kind of blueprint for men, impacting how they engage with support and whether they share their experiences at all. These experiences can also directly cause poorer mental health causing many men to later develop anxiety, depression, and/or more severe mental health disorders like PTSD as mentioned before.
One of the key things that really touch me in this documentary is how important perception is. Black men, are already perceived in a certain way, which impacts the way that they are able; to engage with professionals, access health services, go to therapy and take medication. The level of anxiety is very high around doing these things, as are the consequences if others perceive it negatively. The affect it has on your job, your ability to look after your family or your ability to make money, for example.
In fact according to the Charity MIND's research, 1 in 3 people reported experiencing stigma and or discrimination from a health care professional when getting support for their mental health. So no surprise that many people don't want to go to these places for help.
So here are 3 questions I think we can all reflect on:
- How can we support men to own their vulnerabilities, they can use them as a starting point to improve their mental health, rather than see it as a hindrance.
- What do men need to feel comfortable in themselves so they can access support?
- How can we use safe spaces like barbershops to meet men where they are by training people they trust?
- Black men to be more visible in professions like psychiatry therapy, nursing and social work to break the stereotypes and stigma
- Black women (as well as other men) need to provide and hold safe spaces for men to openly and honestly explore and express their feelings so they can find better ways to manage them.
-The fact is we learn from each other and from what we are around. We have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable to learn and grow.
-Talking to professionals brings clarity and understanding but it is vital that you can talk to the right people at the right time
-Knowing just one person who is going to therapy can encourage and support somebody else to access the help that they need. That person can be you -because at the end of the day, when you grow, everyone around you grows and everybody deserves to be the best version of themselves.
If you want to find out more about the research mind did in particular and the sources from data including the NHS heres the link:
The award winning play by Ryan Cameron