Chandra White-Cummings, Managing Editor
What does it take for a man to openly discuss his personal issues? What kind of courage is required when a young black man with a global following announces to the world that he is losing his battle with mental and emotional issues and is seeking help? Scott Mescudi aka Kid Cudi has what it takes and is that kind of man.
On the evening of Tuesday, October 5, the genre-defying musical artist and emerging actor Kid Cudi posted on Facebook that he had the night before checked himself into a rehab facility to be treated for depression and suicidal urges. Naturally the post quickly went viral, and his fans responded with words of support and encouragement. And it wasn’t long before a coordinated social media response emerged. The hashtag campaign #YouGoodMan became an open space for mainly black men to talk about mental and emotional health however they want to. Some expressed admiration for Cudi’s revelation; others took the opportunity to admit their own struggles with depression or anxiety. There were also those who challenged the stubborn stigma against even having conversations about mental illness and health insurance the black community.
The public dialogue sparked by Kid’s situation is all good, including reminders that other hip hop artists have penned lyrics about depression, suicide, and other mental health topics. Before the hype dies down, it’s a good time to chart a course of action to sustain the momentum created by his transparency and move toward care. Kid Cudi’s entire mental health path is worth noting and emulating as black men and those who love them take their own journeys to wholeness and wellness.
Recognizing a problem is the first step. The importance of recognition is why education is vital. Black men and boys need information about what depression is and how it might show up in their lives. A BlackDoctor.org article explains that signs and symptoms of depression are basically similar between men and women, but men—especially black men—are likely to complain more of physical symptoms rather than emotional or behavioral ones. Headaches, changes in appetite, muscle tension, and stomach issues are commonly reported by men rather than persistent sadness, moodiness, or irritability. If men don’t recognize as depression their deep and abiding anger or their gradual disinterest in activities previously enjoyed, they probably won’t ever address it as a mental health issue.
It’s necessary for black men to acknowledge that what they see applies to their life and not just other people. Owning the sadness, the self-harming behaviors, substance abuse, and loneliness is perhaps one of the most extraordinary aspects of Kid Cudi’s Facebook post. This post wasn’t the first time he spoke about his feelings and state of mind though. His fans know well from his music that he often mentions being sad or unable to cope with his life. In the song Confused, from the 2015 album ‘Speedin Bullet to Heaven’, he says:
I always end up back in a cycle of shame, Looking in the mirror is hard
Some days I hurt myself to distract me from distraction
That’s madness fixing sadness
Some artists call others out in their music, ridiculing a rival’s rap game or mocking their lifestyle. But the key to health is being able and willing to do what Cudi says is hard to do: look in the mirror. Recognizing signs of anxiety or depression in someone else’s life isn’t enough. A man must go the next step and turn the lights on himself by acknowledging his own issues.
Seeking professional help and treatment increases the likelihood of recovery and sustained wellness. Distrust of the medical establishment among African Americans is legendary. Along with cultural messages about relating to the police, how to behave in church, and proper conduct when visiting others’ homes, gatekeepers and the curators of black tradition educate generations about the history of medical misconduct against blacks and the catastrophic results. Not trusting doctors, especially ones “trying to get in your head” is an understood cultural reality. The integration of medicine, social services, and law enforcement—intended to be a benefit—further complicates help-seeking decision making because fathers might fear having children removed from his care by social services because he seeks help for a depression or anxiery.
But at this point in the cultural history of blacks, men and women must fight for health. The same intensity being brought to bear on police forces, school systems, and the criminal justice system must also be applied to the mental health infrastructure in this country. The community’s fear of being exploited and oppressed by the medical system is often justified and should be channeled into compelling the powers that be to remove the reasons for the fear. Furthermore, the dialogue within black families and social circles must change. Every man who tweeted as part of the #YouGoodMan campaign should take their comments and perspective into family dinner discussions, onto the basketball court, into the barbershop, and any other gathering places where men and boys open up to each other. And getting treatment for mental or emotional problems has to become part of those conversations for maximum impact and best outcome.
When it’s all said and done, Kid Cudi’s bold action seems to be borne out of an endearing love affair: between him and his fans and his love and care for himself. The final words of his Facebook post read like a repentant but committed lover’s promise to get better:
I feel like sh*t, I feel so ashamed. I’m sorry. I love you.
To him and other black men and boys like him, we say:
Shed your shame. You will get better. We love you back.