At 19 years old, his build was stocky and solid, with not much height to work with, and hands that were larger than expected. He walked with a slight bounce in his step, just on the ball of his foot; and a wide, bright smile, always, on his face. His mission, it seemed, was to make everyone around him laugh. He was laughter, and fun, and lighthearted, and, at times, child-like. Without warning he, somehow, etched a niche for himself in our little home among our little family in South Central Los Angeles. We did not have much, but what we did have we shared openly with him. In this way he became our brother, friend, son, confidante, grandson, soulmate, and nuisance (as little brothers, real or adopted, should be.)
He took his life two years ago.
He was 27 years old.
I wish I had known we only had eight years.
It is no secret that rapper Kid Cudi deals with his mental health issues. His lyrics are a reflection of his personal struggles. Any fan of his music, who paid close enough attention, could tell that he had many underlying issues of depression he was grappling to deal with daily. In his song, “Soundtrack 2 My Life,” he explicitly states in the chorus:
“I’ve got some issues that nobody can see,
And all of these emotions are pouring out of me,
I bring them to the light for you,
It’s only right,
This is the soundtrack to my life, the soundtrack to my life.”
- From the album Man on the Moon: The End of Day (2009)
The lyrics are despairing, however, that album and his music did something, at least for me, that I had not had from music before in the past. He talked about depression. He talked about his sadness. He made it acceptable to be sad, lonely, and hurt. He made it okay, and because he made it okay, it was okay for the rest of “us;” and by us, I mean Black youth in America.
Now, in 2016, Kid Cudi (Scott Mescudi) furthers the conversation by openly posting on his Facebook page that he was checking himself into rehab because of “depression and suicidal urges.” The hashtag, #Yougoodman was coined on Twitter, promptly following the rapper’s announcement. The hashtag itself is meant to encourage the conversation of mental health among Black men, in particular. However, this high profile case of mental health and celebrity has given the topic the boost it needed for the conversation to be looked at more thoroughly. A conversation that, I believe, could not have happened soon enough.
According to Mental Health America, 2014 statistics revealed that 16 percent of those who identify as Black or African-American in America had a diagnosable mental illness. That approximates to 6.8 million people. However, one study found that of their participants only 30 percent admitted to or seeking out help for mental illness. The question becomes, what of the other 70 percent who never say anything? What happens to them?
Traditionally, African-Americans have persisted with the idea that mental health was something that just did not happen among “us.” We are strong, and thus, admitting to having these kinds thoughts is simply not permissible. Sure, an artist can paint a sad picture and a musician or rapper can croon on, but it stops there. We do not have “those kinds of problems.” Apparently.
There are a number of reasons that must be addressed when it comes to answering why African-Americans do not or cannot seek out help.
First and foremost, there is the stigma associated with mental illness. Culturally it is something that is not acknowledged, not even among family. I, myself, come from a family that has lost more than one member to suicide – male and female – and has seen the effects of other debilitating mental illness on relatives. With a history like this, you would think that the conversation could be had, at the very least, among us. However, it is still a topic met with humiliation, secrecy, and, sometimes, outright denial. Add to this the association that to reveal emotions is to reveal weakness, and the “hyper-masculinity” associated with Black manhood; and you have a recipe for centuries of abuse, conflict, and devastation that affects not just Black men, young and old, but the women and children among them. For those who need help or may want to say something, there is no one to listen. Not family or friends.
Another consideration, access – or lack thereof – prevents a disproportionate number of people from receiving the help they so desperately need. While healthcare and access to healthcare has increased over time, it still prevails that those closer to the poverty line – and, thus, have limited access to services – are less likely to get the help they need. Considering there are a disproportionate number of people of color closer to the poverty line than the picture becomes clearer. In fact, the State of America website fact sheet reports that African-Americans have the highest poverty rate at 27.4 percent. This is in comparison to Hispanics at 26.6 percent, and White People at 9.9 percent. Furthermore, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Mental Health, African-Americans who live under the poverty line are three times more likely to report mental distress than those who live above the poverty line.
I could go on, but this just goes to show that there is a very real risk of mental health – such as depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, etc. – among African-Americans, and it deserves to be addressed.
However, little is being done.
So, when Kid Cudi posted his statement, I felt relieved. He is not the first Black man to talk about depression or to have dealt with it. According to the numbers, he is not the first Black person, period, to deal with depression, nor will he be the last. However, what I appreciate is that he is openly discussing the subject. It is a conversation we – all Black people – need to be more willing to have. The negative stigma associated with depression, the “inherent” weakness tied to it, the humiliation we subject our own people to because of it – all needs to end. We are a people who have lived through horrific traumas, and yes we have survived – even thrived – but at some point the scars also need to be mended.
Being open to conversation, with a loving, empathetic heart could make a huge difference. I ask, if we cannot find a safe space among ourselves, where else can we possibly go?
Conversations on depression and suicide like the one Kid Cudi and others like him are helping to continue could be the difference between a life saved and a life lost.
And that’s what’s most important.
This past Sunday marked the two year anniversary of a beautiful life of promise lost to depression.
I wish I had known there was such a limited amount of time.
I wish I had known we were only going to get eight short years.
I cannot help but reflect upon what signs we may have missed. What triggers were there that we did not see? What could we have said or done differently? Maybe we could have gotten decades more, if only the right words had been said at the right time.
At the risk of sounding like a PSA announcement, I cannot urge you enough to seek help for yourself or anyone who has expressed thoughts of depression or suicide.
Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
(Note: This piece was originally written by me for my school project blog, found here. This version has some modifications, but it is all my own original writing.)