#YouGoodMan: Hip-hop, Masculinity & Mental Health
“I am not at peace”. Those words struck me most, they resided in me a feeling that I’ve known all too well. A sign that I share a connection with one of my favorite artist, whose music I’ve used for my own therapy. Like Kid Cudi, I am not at peace. I am not at peace with my own self, my own worthiness, and with my constant internal battle of my life’s purpose. A year and a half ago, I sought help.
As a result of his recent note about his personal battles with mental health, Kid Cudi has brought awareness of mental health issues amongst the hip-hop community. It also made me think about the correlation between masculinity and mental health. Like Cudi, I to avoided seeking help due to the stigma that came along with it. Shame and embarrassment are the catalyst to mental health and the cause of why many men do not seek help.
I wasn’t crazy, or at least, I didn’t think I was. Why would I need to seek therapy? I’m man enough to get through this – these were reassurement’s that I would say to myself to back up the notion that help wasn’t needed. I can still pinpoint the year, event, and the trauma that first triggered my depression, it was about ten years ago. I diligently remember my mother asking if I needed to seek help. I was depressed but wouldn’t admit, even though I knew I was. I would lock myself in my room for hours upon hours. She kept asking, I remained silent.
“It is the attitudes and social norms involved with depression, anxiety, and therapy that trap men, especially black men, into remaining silent”. Kid Cudi is one of the rare artist within hip-hop to force the conversation about mental health. His songs paint a constant brush of loneliness and vulnerability, which was my primary draw and interest to his artistry.
When Man on the Moon first came out, every song on the album had at least 100+ plays on my itunes. Unlike any other artist, Kid Cudi spoke to me. I was the lonely stoner who got high at night while on his own pursuit of happiness. Often times I felt alone, like the world was against me. No one would understand the constant thoughts that whirled around in my head. In Kid Cudi was a kindred spirit, a connection. We were both alone, but his outlet and expression of loneliness, was my daily medication to numb the pain.
Kid Cudi has sparked a conversation about the importance of mental health care and reiterated that even depression feels like a lonely place, so many people can relate". Even if it wasn't his intention, Kid Cudi's willingness to be vulnerable is helping others to feel comfort in seeking help.
The message of hip-hop is one of hope. A 2014 study by Cambridge University has found that listening to hip-hop can help combat mental illness. The storytelling, the escapism, and the subject matter of hip-hop is authentic to the lives of the artist. “Lyrics of overcoming struggles and misfortune give solace to those that are in similar situations”.
Hip-hop reminds us that it’s okay to go thru the struggles, that there’s always a brighter day, that triumph is right around the corner, and that it’s okay to be different – to be you.
Kid Cudi’s revelation earlier this week is encouraging and sparked a hashtag on twitter #YouGoodMan – a place for black men to speak about their battles with mental health. That’s the beauty of social media. It gives us an outlet to talk about our feelings in a way that is not always welcomed in real life. The dialogue has opened up.
“Things do come around and make sense eventually” Kid Cudi. I often tell those close to me about my ‘dark days’ that I experienced during college and right after graduation. We all have our hills and valleys, some hills higher than others, and some valleys lower. When you are overtaken with depression, anxiety, and in the middle of a panic attack – your perception of your own valley seems like its deeper than death valley.
Excessive binge drinking, blacking out night after night, uncommitted, poor grades, and unstable relationships. I tried my best to wash out the pain that has built up year after year. A result of the lack of help that I did not seek.
During my darkest days, the internal fight that I had with myself was un-winnable. I was trying to fit into an imaginary status quo and always falling short, never feeling good about myself. Drinking heavy to run from my problems instead of asking for help or talking about it. Thoughts that I wasn’t good enough, a son of a cop, going off the cliff – run ins with law, a drunk, a party animal.
Society has many standards for men. I didn’t fit into any of them. I am not black societies, white societies, or brown societies stereotype of what type of man I should be…I am and have always been me.
“Masculinity can be extremely toxic to our mental health, both to the people who are pressured to perform it and the people who are inevitably influenced by it” As men, there is a constant pressure to be: strong, patient, focused, protective, smart, and perfect. These masculine norms, to be tough and to be a provider, do have consequences. It affects the way we seek help, or don’t. There’s a large elephant in the room when it comes to masculinity and mental health, as depression is killing more than ever.
According to The Kim Foundation, 26.2% of people in the U.S. over the age of 18 suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder each year. This number is even higher for black men. Our own hyper-masculinity, taught generation after generation, has stigmatized showing too much emotion. This has led to the communities stigmas around mental health.
As men, we take pride in our self-esteem and living up to societies norms of masculinity. Bombarded with external and internal pressures, we are often left confused on what it means to be a man. Often times, we will use our own dismissiveness to emotional pain as a form of being masculine and being a man! You know, by manning up!
Silence is often the biggest cry for help. I tend to harness all my emotions, that it is detrimental to my health and stability. It’s a constant battle. Unwillingness to seek help and denial can often lead to bigger problems.
Shame. Guilt. Suppression.
To be a man – I’ve always questioned how I fit up to the standards. To be a man, is to not display vulnerabilities or seek help for emotional issues, which I’ve suppressed year after year. Like most men, we feel guilty and shame for not being able to control our own thoughts.
Courage is the first step. To say that you are struggling with your internal emotions and mental stability is truth. Like any other disease, years without treatment can cause serious issues, which could've been diagnosed and treated in it's early stages.
We need to stop avoiding, numbing, and escaping the pain.
Self-care is important. Vulnerability is important. Talking to someone about what it’s like inside your head is important.
#YouGoodMan was a response to Kid Cudi’s emotional post. A response by other men who are struggling with their mental health and inspired by his vulnerability. I am one of those men and this entire post is a result of his expression and refreshing words. Bringing awareness is a huge step forward to the goal of having more men seek help and mental health support. Often portrayed as a sign of weakness, but it’s the ultimate strength!
The power to see other men share their experiences, express empathy and ask on how to get help is empowering. It has made me think that I and many other men like myself should not be ashamed or afraid to show our feelings, and to seek help when times are bad. Through every dark night is a brighter day.
I’m currently listening to Kid Cudi as I finish this post. Hip-hop tends to have this effect of “positive visual imagery” which helps people see the light when the whole world feels dark. The lyrics provide a valuable way for young men to understand and consider their own vulnerability and life choices….in order to make more informed and empowered choices.
No one beats mental illness alone. When you’re feeling the weight of the world, just know you aren’t alone. You are strong. For someone like Kid Cudi to come out publicly about his mental health and seeking help to find his own peace, opens the doors and gives permission for others to do the same.
As men, we need to encourage discussions on how to openly talk about our emotions and how to engage in masculine identities in a healthy way. Ultimately, mental health is a resource that each of us needs in order to manage our lives successfully.