“Strong Black Man” Hurts Black Men with Mental Health Issues

To be African American, male, and mentally ill is to face a particular cultural medical challenge.

Emotional vulnerability is a prerequisite for good mental health – and admitting feelings of fear, pain, sadness, or panic is a condition for the diagnosis of a mental disorder. Yet many African American men are brought up in a culture that equates psychiatric conditions with personal weakness.

The result is generations of African American men whose mental health problems go unrecognized or untreated. The stigma and unhealthy gender socialization present one of the biggest hurdles to getting African Americans in front of a therapist, says Dr. Norissa Williams, who works at NYU Steinhardt’s Department of Applied Psychology as a clinical assistant professor for [email protected], which offers an online master’s in mental health counseling program.

African American men’s stoicism, Williams says, goes beyond the stereotypical male aversion to sharing feelings. It’s a legacy of centuries of trauma and marginalization in a white person’s world. As one African American writer put it, that toxic masculinity has “created pernicious and self-destructive cultural norm.”

African Americans’ historical mistrust of the medical establishment compounds the stigma that envelopes mental illness within the black community. Research has found some black Americans view depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric conditions as