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Black Male Stress
As a professor, I am analytical by nature. This summer, I conducted a series of focus groups in St. Louis on black men, stress and mental health.
“As a black man, do you feel a lot of pressure?”
I asked this question to each circle of men. For many black men, there is the pressure of wearing a mask. Whether you’re climbing the corporate ladder or struggling to piece together a few different part time jobs. Sometimes the mask is to be a provider and protector. Sometimes the mask is to be disarming and at other times menacing. It’s a tricky juggling act. Presenting strength in an impoverished environment, showing no weakness and yet be able to turn that subdued and deferential switch on when encountering trigger happy police officers.
In each focus group I conducted, financial pressure, including unstable employment, the ability to pay bills and to take care of children’s needs, was at the top of the list of stressors.
And eventually, one way or another, the topic of racism always came up. Stories of discrimination at work, being called names, being passed over for promotion, being harassed by police officers, and being watched in stores were shared. Some men identified broader issues of racism, such as discrimination in hiring or poor schooling, as the reasons they struggled so much. In one group, I asked a question about depression. A few men said they believed they were depressed most of their lives.
One gentleman said he has just always been down for as long as he could remember. “I’ve been down most of my life…down, down, down. I’m in the sewers. I’m a ninja turtle,” he said barely audible without looking up.
Many of the men I have spoken to have been exposed to trauma early in their lives, have lived in poverty or have had run-ins with the law. All these factors could be related to depression.
Most men seemed open to seeking treatment but cost and access are major barriers. Another challenge is coping.
What does one do to cope with all the stress? A lot of the coping strategies suggested in my focus groups were not particularly healthy, such as drinking, smoking weed or using another drug. Others focused on spirituality. But one constant suggestion was to do just what we were doing…talking with each other.
It may be tough to open up, but just getting it out can be a major step toward addressing the stress we all experience.
1. The north side of St. Louis City is predominantly black. Blacks have migrated north into the suburbs, “North County” where Ferguson is located.
Dr. Darrell Hudson is an assistant professor with the Brown School of Social Work and a faculty scholar with the Institute of Public Health at Washington University in St. Louis. Dr. Hudson completed his doctorate in Health Behavior and Health Education at the University of Michigan, where he also received his Master of Public Health. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Morehouse College.