StoriesCombating the Stigma and Fighting Depression African American Males

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has identified that rates of depression for African-American males have increased within the last 20 years (CDC, 2019). The 2010 Census noted that rates of suicide amongst African-American males between the ages of 18-56 were 12% higher than Caucasian males (Gray, 2014). As rates of depression and suicidal ideation increase for African-American males, there is a need for identification, implementation, and application of culturally competent, relevant, and sensitive strategies and therapeutic practices to help this population combat depression, and the stigma associated with mental health disorders.


The development of depression within African-American males is not understood, but previous research has linked slavery, epigenetics, and racism as contributing factors to the increase (Hankerson et al., 2015). Culturally, and within many minority ethnic groups, the usage or thought of psychotherapy and psychotropic medication is laughable, and not supported within the individuals’ support system (Gray, 2014).  The idea that having a mental health disorder equates to weakness for African-American males often prohibits them from accessing needed mental health services that may benefit their mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing. The cultural rebuff of mental health services for African-American males often means utilization of other “coping skills” that can be maladaptive, and increase symptoms of depression. Engagement in cannabis and alcohol usage remains a primary coping skill identified by African-American males between the ages of 18-24 to numb feelings and emotions related to depression (Hankerson et al., 2015).


As the rates of depression continue to increase for African-American males, it is important that community leaders and organizations work towards decreasing the stigma of mental health services, and provide treatment modalities that are culturally competent, sensitive, and available. Utilizing therapeutic interventions such as Motivational Interviewing (MI) and Stages of Change help to gain a better understanding of the individual’s life course through non-judgmental practices and rapport building. Trauma Informed Care principles identify the impact that cultural and historical issues have regarding trauma. Unprocessed trauma, whether it is mild or severe, is still unprocessed. When African-American males are encouraged to internalize their feelings, emotions, and mental health it sends the message that they need to be “robots” and detach.


As the awareness of mental health disorders continues to pick up, we have to also work towards identifying populations where mental health services are not encouraged or readily available due to ethnicities, gender, or cultural beliefs. We must take the time to work towards humanizing and decreasing stigmas related to mental health for all underrepresented populations, not only through awareness, but decreasing the myth that mental health discriminates based upon your ethnicity and gender.

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