Men’s Mental Health on 92Q: How Black Men Can Put Words To What They’re Feeling

More people are talking about their mental health experiences, which is a step in the right direction. But, these conversations often lack substance and information on what happens during therapy. During a conversation on 92Q, Quinton Askew, president and CEO of 211 Maryland and psychotherapist Kirk Baltimore, LMSW with Sheppard Pratt, spoke candidly about being a Black man, recognizing trauma, and finding mental health support from someone who gets your perspective in life. They talked about the roadblocks men face, especially men of color, and the many paths to healing.

Recognizing when to talk to a mental health therapist

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Kirk Baltimore with Sheppard Pratt said, “It’s been a bit of a challenge, especially for black men and men of color, just because of how we have been raised and the example that we’ve seen before. It’s very challenging to be able to all of a sudden be able to check in with yourself and say, ‘Hey, I think I need mental health therapy.’”

Baltimore explained that you should look for these signs:

  • Depressed mood
  • Changes in appetite
  • Consistent worrying
  • Nervousness

Be honest with yourself and your friends. Check-in with each other and don’t try to tough it out. These can be indicators of a potential mental health concern.

“Things that historically, Black people and people of color have been told to kind of press through, and that gives us resilience. We’re supposed to walk through these things, but I think that with us being able to lift one another and check in with ourselves, we find that like, I think that maybe I need to be talking to somebody,” explained Baltimore.

While individuals often feel apprehensive about going to therapy, Baltimore explained that therapy often surprises people. It can be validating and allow you to be seen, heard and accepted.

“Once they engage in that therapy, they seem to be really surprised that they feel affirmed and validated from their experiences, like, ‘Hey, they’re actually talking to me. They’re actually validating how I’m feeling. They’re helping me to be able to process these things. I’m not wrong, and oftentimes, that’s like a big thing,” explained Baltimore.

Conversations about mental health lack substance

More people are talking about mental health on social media, among friends, and even at the barber shop. When people open up about their experiences, it can be helpful to the individual and others.

However, there’s still stigma and a lack of substantive conversation about mental health and what it means.

Quinton Askew of 211 Maryland said, “I think in our communities, I think we are still struggling a little bit to have those conversations, whether that’s ego or whether that’s just, you know, ‘I don’t know how to say what I need to say.’ But I think we need to be a little bit more educated about having a conversation with our homeboys and our friends and family members. We’re doing a lot with getting rid of the stigma, but I think locally we got to find a better way to communicate with each other.”

 Baltimore added that the conversations also lack substance.

“We go into these trends, into these fads that like it sounds good, but when it comes down to us actually seeking it out and doing it and doing the work, then it’s a little bit different than just the happy-go-lucky, just go to a therapist or mental health…There has to be more substantial conversation about mental health. What it means, what it entails, because there’s a lot of expectations going into therapy as a Black man,” said Baltimore.

He continued by saying that people know about therapy, but many people go into therapy thinking they’re ready for the therapist to fix them. But, actually, therapy is about processing, reframing, and confessing to some degree. A lot happens in therapy, and it can be difficult. And, there need to be conversations about what therapy entails.

How to manage stress

Many individuals grow up witnessing or experiencing violence, abuse, or loss, which significantly impacts their mental health. These traumatic experiences are often internalized and rarely discussed, exacerbating the impact. Addressing and unpacking these traumas is a critical step in the healing process.

You may get help from a mental health/behavioral health therapist, peer support specialist, support group or a spiritual advisor. There are also things you can do on your own in between sessions to help process thoughts and manage stress. These may include:

  • Journaling
  • Yoga
  • Exercise
  • Music
  • Meditation

“I’m a big fan of let me write it out,” explained Askew.

There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. What’s most important is that the strategy you chose works for you, offering a personal route to healing.

Black man talking to a mental health counselor

Putting words to what you’re feeling

Some of the above techniques can help you put words to your feelings.

It can be difficult to recognize your trauma, particularly in environments where certain experiences are considered normal. Societal norms and expectations often discourage men from acknowledging and expressing their emotions, leading to suppressed trauma.

Creating a safe and supportive environment where men can engage in conversations about trauma is crucial. The speakers emphasized the importance of helping men understand the concept of trauma and the significance of addressing it in therapy.

It was suggested that the initial conversation should revolve around presenting observations and highlighting potential areas of concern. It is essential to approach the topic delicately without forcing or pressuring individuals to seek therapy. Instead, the aim should be to gradually increase their awareness and understanding of their experiences, allowing them to decide to pursue therapy on their terms.

Askew explained, “You know, coming from Baltimore City, right? It’s seeing all these things that don’t know whether it’s in school, whether it’s divorce, and you know, violence in the neighborhood and everything else right? Those things are prominent as a little boy to a teenager to an adult. You act those things out. All right, and they kind of become aggression….I think, for me, it’s understanding what that was, being able to put words to it. Those are some dramatic experiences to be able to see coming from Baltimore City, right? Just to be able to articulate that and talk about it. But, I think you know, you got to find the right space to be able to do that. Somebody to be able to listen to that…And I think you know, I’m one of those that carried those things through until late 30s.”

It may be a process and require small steps to start processing experiences.

Askew said to start by having the conversation and recognizing what you’ve been through rather than having someone tell you to go see a therapist.

He said if you go to therapy because someone told you to go, “Then at that point, that relationship between therapist and person can’t work out because it’s not genuine right. And so I think that it’s important that if we are supporting somebody else, like we’re saying, that like with your wife, being very supportive of you, you know, going and pursuing therapy, like there had to be some acknowledgment that you had said, hey, yeah, I resonate with this, but if they don’t you know, then it’s gonna be very challenging for them to see it as something serious.”

“I think that that person has to acknowledge that this is something that they consider to be trauma and that they’re willing to address in therapy for themselves,” Askew explained.

Finding a therapist

There’s no right way to manage stress, and there’s no right way to conduct a therapy session. Therapists have different approaches and specializations. So, how do you find a therapist that works for you?

Ask what modalities they practice and what types of therapy they offer.

Ask about how they run their practice, their philosophy, and the types of therapy.

For example, some individuals may prefer cognitive behavioral therapy, while others may seek more talk-based therapy or psychoanalysis.

Recognize that sometimes you and your therapist won’t have a genuine connection or comfort. That’s ok. Think about it in terms of the other aspects of life, like finding a barber.

“It’s not easy to simply go to one [barber]. You know, it takes time to build a relationship…I think that, likewise, it’s similar in that. That’s based on your impression that you’re getting, you know, and how comfortable you feel sharing with that person,” Baltimore explained.

As a Black man, finding a therapist who looks like you and understands you may be difficult.

“When it comes down to African Americans in mental health, we haven’t seen many people that look like us sitting behind that chair. We haven’t. And, so a lot of times, some of the feedback that I’ve gotten is that I want to have a therapist where I don’t’ have to explain certain African American nuances that may be unclear to someone who isn’t African American. And I think that‘s fair. I think that is real. That’s a real experience. It’s very subtle, but I mean, it does matter. If you feel like you’re trying to get genuine feedback, but you feel like your therapist doesn’t understand that or your therapist is judging you for certain decisions or judging you on something that in our culture may seem very normal, that can be very frustrating and essentially make them not want to go back. It doesn’t happen with everybody. Not every African American client is only looking for African American therapists, but it does come up quite a bit,” said Baltimore.

Additionally, the speakers highlighted the significance of the therapeutic relationship and the connection between the therapist and the individual. It was noted that sometimes, despite a therapist’s expertise, there may not be a genuine connection or comfort in sharing personal experiences. Trust and rapport are vital for therapy to be effective, and individuals should feel empowered to explore different options until they find the therapist who best suits their needs.

How to make mental health a priority

Just like physical health, mental health is as important. It can provide peace of mind, and sharing your experiences can make you feel freer and lighter.

Reach out to one of the free and confidential programs to start the conversation and find the support you need. 211 offers ongoing behavioral health support.

211 Health Check is a weekly check-in program to connect you with a supportive and compassionate person. It’s free and confidential. Sign up for 211 Health Check.

211 also provides motivational text message support.

Talk to your friends and let them know it’s okay to get help and support those who are getting help. You can search for behavioral health support throughout Maryland in the state’s behavioral health resource database powered by 211. You can also always call 2-1-1 to have a specialist help you find the right resource, like a program at an agency at Sheppard Pratt.

For immediate help, call 9-8-8.

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