• Natene Erumi

What Kanye West Taught Us About Black Men's Mental Health...

Over the past week we have seen popular rapper Kanye West go on numerous public rants. Despite the fact that many people managed to find humour in parts of his outbursts, they highlighted a serious problem...

Mental health still isn’t taken seriously enough; specifically and most importantly, Black men's mental health is overlooked.

Kanye West is a popular rapper and public figure - he is well known for being very outspoken.

It is not a secret that he isn’t afraid to speak freely or hold back on his opinion...



In case you are not aware, Kanye suffers from bipolar disorder - "a mental health condition that affects your moods, which can swing from one extreme to another” (NHS). Around 5.7 millions Americans are diagnosed with bipolar disorder (DBSA), along with 3 million people in the UK (Bipolar UK)...


These figures show you that bipolar disorder is a lot more common than you might think; tackling stigma is incredibly important.


There is a lot of stigma associated with mental health in general and, from experience, the stigma is even worse within Black communities...

Mental Health America claims that many Black Americans suffering with bipolar sadly either go undiagnosed and untreated.

Kanye’s outburst showed us that many people are quick to label someone with a mental health illness as “crazy”. This label is harmful as it perpetuates mental health stigmas. It can make those suffering with mental illness less likely to seek help and feel inadequate because rather than being seen as a person who has a condition, they are reduced to that condition – and there is more to a person than their illness.


It was eye opening to see that when Kanye was going through his outburst, the general public reaction was to laugh and make jokes instead of asking “is he okay?” We have to ask ourselves - if Kanye was white would the response have been different?


Mental health is a reality for everyone - and Black men have long had to suffer silently; emotional stoicism along with stigmas within the Black community play a large role in this.

A lot of Black men may not have been taught to be openly vulnerable and share their emotions. Vulnerability can be seen as a sign of weakness and a challenge to masculinity, making it harder for Black men to deal with their mental health issues effectively.

A lot of the time their feelings may be ignored or brushed under the carpet, exacerbating the issue even more. As if the barriers to seeking help with mental health as a Black man are not enough, many within the Black community tend to try and keep mental health issues ‘quiet’ and are embarrassed to seek help. If as a community, we were more open with mental health, maybe more men would open up and seek help when they need it.

It is okay not be okay. It is okay as a Black man to say “I need help".

Having a mental illness is not easy, but there are ways in which men can be aided to cope.


We must take this matter very seriously; people are dying and suffering in silence.

Let's say no to expecting Black men to be “tough” and forget they have feelings - just like us, they go through emotional hardships. Not to mention, the burdens that Black people carry in today’s society can make us more likely to face mental health issues in the first place. We must show Black men that we care and they are not weak, but human.

How can we help?

  1. Talk to the Black men in your life; simply asking them if they are okay and letting them know you are there for them can be a step in the right direction. Sometimes just lending an ear to listen is enough.

  2. Don’t try to ‘fix’ people you know are facing mental illnesses, they are not broken. Try to educate yourself on mental health, there are plenty of resources online.

  3. Additionally, check yourself (and others) when you might feel you are pushing negative narratives and stereotypes about mental health. For example, do not be so quick to label someone with mental health as ‘crazy’...

Please remember we are all human, everyone has their own issues and everyone copes with them differently. Stop to think what a person may be going through and how their environment can affect them.

Black men...we are here for you and we want you to know that facing mental health issues does not make you ‘less than’ or ‘weak’. You are more than your illness.

Here are some resources for those struggling with mental health or for those seeking further their knowledge:

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/bipolar-disorder/living-with/

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/bipolar-disorder/about-bipolar-disorder/

https://www.blackthrive.org.uk/

https://www.mind.org.uk/about-us/our-policy-work/equality-and-human-rights/young-black-men/


Sources used for this article:

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/bipolar-disorder/

https://www.bipolaruk.org/faqs/bipolar-the-facts

https://www.dbsalliance.org/education/bipolar-disorder/bipolar-disorder-statistics/

https://www.mhanational.org/bipolar-disorder-and-black-americans

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