I should just title this “Black People and Mental Health” but I lean toward men at this point for two reasons: 1. I live with a black man and 2. I teach predominantly black and brown male children.
As an educator of students with special needs I sit in on and conduct meetings regarding a child’s behavior, social skills and academic skills. I’ve poured over thousands of pages of psychological and family reports, as well as observations from teachers and therapists. For the past ten years, based on those reports, I’ve written hundreds of Individual Education Plans and I can often see and hear what others may not when it comes to a persons/child’s challenges or disabilities. From my own history with childhood trauma and studies of childhood abuse, I can often pick up on issues that others may not be aware even exist. I have had children pour their hearts out to me about the pain and anger they feel due to family dynamics and drama that is beyond their control. I’ve sat in conferences with parents who ask, “what are some things I can do at home to help my child,” and I’ve had others say to me, “well, what do you want me to do about it?”
No matter where I am or who I’m speaking with, if the conversation seems to be taking a negative turn, I try, first, not to judge and then I make sure to remind myself that I don’t know what is going on in this persons life at this moment and that what they are projecting most likely has nothing to do with me.
Recently, I read an article about elementary schools that are incorporating mindfulness and calming strategies into classrooms to help students deal with anger and frustration in a positive way. One purpose for this was to decrease the rise many schools are seeing in behavior issues. Two things stood out for me in this article: first, statistics show that many of the students in the mindfulness class were brown and black and two, most of them were male children. Of course, there were positive and negative reviews about whether or not mindfulness and calming strategies should be taught at school. I found one parent’s comment very odd. She said, “mindfulness is a modern form of brainwashing and schools that have this program are just brainwashing children.”
There are times when I believe that, as a society, we’ve come a long way, baby, but then I read a comment like that a realize we are not as far as we could be.
I am constantly concerned about my students and my own children. I am concerned about the negative images they are exposed to as well as the negative conversations. I am continuously giving them positive encouragement and being open to talking to them no matter the subject. I try to validate their thoughts and feelings and together, help them find positive ways to combat their struggles and challenges.
So when I read something like that parents’ comment on mindfulness I am reminded of how growing up in my family, mental health was not acknowledged and definitely not something we talked about. What we all did know was that we had that one relative we were told was, “just going through some things.” Mental health was just not dealt with.
Now, here we are in 2019, and we are seeing and reading more and more about issues surrounding mental health. I brought this topic up to my husband and he flat out refused to even consider the impact poor mental health has on black men. We are in our mid-forties, born during that “we don’t discuss those things in this house” era. Black men were raised to be tough. You got problems, you keep them to yourself. Men are providers, anything else, you just deal with it. And that they did, only it often times came out in negative ways. Fathers who drank just a little too much, were abusive or simply turned their backs on their families taught these same coping strategies to their children. And then those children taught it to their children and the cycle of the generational curse began. Not to say that mothers can’t negatively impact their children because they can as well.
There is just something about the fact that when young brown and black boys are told not to show emotion, to be tough and not to cry, the impact that has on them as men trying to get ahead in life or raise their own children is far greater than many can even imagine. My husband’s comment made me think about the stigma most black men his age face, if there is a problem, you just deal with it. Black people don’t go to therapy, black people don’t talk about their problems, they deal with it.
Yet, we have a society full of young, capable and brilliant black and brown men dealing with on their problems on their own and struggling to figure it out. I see it at school every single day. Boys that just want to be kids, to not have the responsibility of their whole family on their shoulders, to not be told to be tough, not to cry or to handle it like a man. It would probably shock many people to know that many times I can diffuse rage in one of my male students with a simple hug and then some conversation. They want to know that they matter, that their feelings are valid. Most of all, all they want to know is that someone cares.
I would really just hate to see a continuation of children growing up in a society that does not value the benefits of positive mental health and to not have men speak life into them about positive ways to handle life issues. They need to know that its ok to speak about whatever they are feeling. That’s what makes them tough, that’s what makes them strong. Mental health is real. If as a culture we don’t start taking action, especially in our homes, we are going to continue to lose our children at an even more alarming rate.
While I speak mostly about minority children, it is only because I connect with what is closest to me. I am certain all children are faced with challenges and struggles they need help dealing with. My hope is that as adults we can recognize our own need for assistance with our mental help so that we can in turn support children with theirs.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month
Fact: 1 in 5 people will be affected by mental health in their lifetime.