Lee Jones, a native of Kentucky, recently disclosed his battles with depression on his blog Hot Rhetoric. In a post dated May 19, he shares his experiences of growing up the son of a preacher and his frustration whenever he would seek guidance from church leaders for his struggles.
He tells of his experience with his pastor close to 10 or 11 years ago. He considers this pastor to be a dynamic preacher and teacher. After telling the pastor he needed prayer and guidance because he didn’t like his life, the man he had come to respect and admire could not help him.
“He responded with cheery anecdotes and philosophical musings. He undoubtedly thought his response was helpful but it was typical church-speak,” Jones writes. “He never once asked me why I felt the way I did or if I thought about seeing a mental health professional. I left church that day feeling worse than I did when I came because I reached out for help and I did not get it.”
Now a resident of Atlanta, GA, Jones does not hide his still present frustrations with black churches regarding this issue.
“Black churches have done a great job in saving souls, but I think they come up short on saving lives. By not talking about issues such as depression, suicide, HIV/AIDS, etc., in a Christ-like way then parishioners feel it is not important or even a problem,” he told theGrio. “Or if they do talk about it the preacher often uses God to shame the person struggling with mental illness by saying things such as, ‘a child of God has no business being depressed,’ or ‘You don’t need to see a doctor, God can heal you of depression if you have faith.’”
Breaking the taboo in the black community
He said these kinds of messages suggest that seeking help is an act of disbelief in God. So even if a person was thinking about seeking help after hearing “God’s man or woman” say something shaming they further go in closet and remain stuck in agony.
Antoine B. Craigwell, realizing the conversations were not being had, took matters into his own hands by producing a documentary that addresses depression among black gay men.
You Are Not Alone has been screened in select cities across the United States. According to Craigwell, the documentary is simply black gay men breaking a taboo in the black community to speak out about their struggle and suffering in silence with depression, especially the factors which contributed to their descent into depression.
“After hearing several friends describe their lives and what was happening, I noticed a pattern,” he told theGrio.
Initially he sought out to write a news article about the issue. However, he quickly realized the resources needed did not exist.
“There was one book about depression in black men by John Head,” he said. “But nothing about depression as it effects black gay men.
Moore, familiar with the documentary, thinks the documentary is a good start in creating transformation.
“I get the sense that what he wants to do is provide a space to critically think about mental health issues among black gay men,” he said. “I think that is great.”
Moore is also a fan of re-appropriating how we talk about black men and black manhood masculinity. Normally, he said, this is done through a framework that focuses lack “or how we negatively contribute to” but never about the resilience that we maintain.
He would like to see more stories about brothers, black men and black gay men, who are resilient despite statistics.
Ending the mental health stigma
“The point is that we are living, right? We are here, despite,” he said. And through his advocacy, activism and writing, Moore is attempting to create the necessary discussions to bring about such change.
Jones is as well. Since sharing his story people have reached out, sharing their own experiences. Some have distanced themselves, but others have applauded his honesty.
He wants to be an advocate against the stigma of seeking help from mental health professionals in the African-American community, regardless of sexuality.
“Too many of us are ending our lives because we see no other way to deal with the pain,” he said. That also means being an example for those silently suffering in the pews.
“As we say in church, they need to see that they do not have to live beneath their privilege. And that therapists, counselors and psychiatrists are not at odds with being a Christian.”