Depression is a snake in the grass whose signal isn’t always as overt as a bite or a sting. It can mask itself in perceived progression, can be quiet, can come in the form of erratic behavior, be aimless anger, be a steady stream of hopelessness, a loss of laughter, or merely manifest in the form of absence.
Because depression is such a moving target, those who suffer from it often struggle to keep up. Unfortunately, Kanye West’s recent breakdown and hospitalization is nothing new to Black men. Other celebrities such as Kid Cudi have publicly expressed thoughts of suicide and bouts with depression, and Kanye’s breakdown started long before it made headlines. And quite honestly, it’s been happening before his fitful behavior and random rants during his Saint Pablo tour.
Kanye’s breakdown is a climax of what has probably been going on for years, perhaps before the public even knew him as “Kanye West.” No one labeled Kanye West’s behavior as a marker of potential mental illness, because Black men aren’t given that benefit.
I commend Kid Cudi on his bravery for coming forward, and I believe Kanye West’s recent hospitalization is a blessing in disguise to help propel him forward. But it also forces us to have a transparent discourse around mental health in the Black community, and to think about why we don’t talk about it. The truth is there are a lot of Black men out here who struggle with depression who aren’t saying anything because either they don’t know or are ashamed. Unfortunately, those who do not speak up are quickly labeled “angry” and “unfit” by the general public. Personally, I’ve grappled with maintaining a healthy mental equilibrium.
I use to be guilty of the strong and silent narrative. My idea of strength was to internally broker mental imbalances, sorrow, and problems with myself, and have it manifest positively. If I could navigate through my problems, no matter how big, and not talk to anyone about them, then I thought that made me a man. But I’ve learned that the problem with this approach is that it required the internalization of a lot of my emotions, which in my case, were often expressed in the form of anger.
I was that “angry Black man” during my twenties. I said the most hurtful, under-the-belt things to my closest friends and family, and would get into a lot of fights. I’d wake up angry and not know why. I’d go to the club angry and not know why. I’d go to sleep angry and not know why. I lost my first love and close friends over my anger, and I didn’t know why.
I was 21, and had just came out to my family—which was well received—but I didn’t feel well received by the gay community in Chicago’s Boystown neighborhood, which is predominantly white. I felt less than, not of value, and like I didn’t matter. It also didn’t help that I had to move back in with my parents after graduating from college, because I couldn’t find a steady job. I suffered from terribly low self-esteem, but I was for damn sure not going to let anyone know. So I drank, partied, and probably cursed and pissed off half of Chicago in the process.
At the time, I didn’t know I had low self-esteem or was potentially suffering from depression, I didn’t know I was angry, and I didn’t know that drinking made me more susceptible to such self-destructive behavior. But like a true Black momma, my mom had to get me together.
“You need to find a new hobby, because drinking ain’t it. If you continue down the path you’re going on, one of three things is going to happen: you’re going to kill someone, someone is going to kill you, or you’re going to end up in prison.”
The changes in my behavior didn’t happen overnight. It took years for me to arrive at a place of self-awareness, and to move forward in a way that didn’t ostracize my loved ones and internalize my anger. I had to stumble a few times, hit the reset button and realize that my value isn’t outside of myself, which is very difficult for Black men. I still struggle, but it’s a different set of problems. If my family, in particular my mom, didn’t take the time to talk through my emotions with me, quite honestly, I don’t think I’d be here right now.
Black men aren’t valued in our culture. It’s whispered to us through legislation, judicial decisions, and is often literally screamed at us in the streets. It’s hard, but I’ve had to actively work on sustaining a value that is independent of everything that can be taken away from me, which includes my job, a relationship, attention, and anything really of the secular world. I’m valuable because I say so, not because society confirmed it.
An “angry Black man” is an example of his problems dealing with him. Don’t just label him as angry, give a damn hug, talk to him, and dig deeper because underneath that anger is a lot of hurt and sorrow. Obviously, a hug and a conversation isn’t going to solve his problems, but at least he knows someone cares. Because as a Black man, it can really feel like no one gives a damn.
Terrence Chappell is a Chicago-based writer. He covers an array of topics ranging from social justice to more brain candy content such as pop culture and infotainment. When he isn’t writing, Terrence works as a social media manager at Burrell Communications.