By Terrence F. Chappell, ebony.com
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.