EXCLUSIVE: Kofi Siriboe on facing his own mental health and empowering others to do the same with ‘JUMP’

The actor directed and produced a short film everyone should see on World Mental Health Day

Kofi Siriboe may be best-known for his role as a sexy, single father on Queen Sugar but the actor has a lot more to share with the world than his muscles. He recently wrote, directed, produced, and starred in a short film that addresses a subject our community is known to avoid–mental health.

JUMP follows Ziggy, a man who’s grappling with grief and experiencing several mental health issues as a result. Within the first minute of the film, anyone who has ever walked down the path of depression will recognize the subtle signs of the debilitating struggle.

Siriboe embarked on the journey of making this movie as a response to losing a friend and mentor to suicide just before he got his big break on Queen Sugar. 

“He jumped off of a bridge. It just doesn’t make sense. Still to this day, I still have questions and I took an artistic approach to asking the questions and JUMP is what came out of that,” he told TheGrio during an exclusive interview. “I wanted to create something relatable. I wanted to make something that reflected my real life and could be therapeutic.”

What the actor didn’t expect was that the film would force him to confront his own mental health issues.

“When I finished the film I sat down with myself for a few weeks and I really had to ask myself, ‘Wow. Maybe I’m a lot closer to Ziggy than I think I am.’ I tried to detach myself from the character and make it about this artistic approach and every day it became more clear that this was a world I knew more about that I thought I did. I wondered, what is the distance between me and him? What actually drives you to the point of being on that bridge and actually jumping and not being here anymore? What actually gets you there? The lines are certainly blurry,” he explained.

“That’s what honest art does. It forces you to ask yourself questions. I needed something else. I needed to provide some context. That’s why I made What The Fu*k Is Mental Health? I wanted people to have some insight on the subject and I ended up releasing that first.”

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While Kofi Siriboe is still navigating his own experience, he hopes that his powerful film will ignite conversations our community desperately needs to have.

“It’s just not talked about. If I have the resources I have and I’m living this beautiful life and I’m so blessed and I still have to fight for these spaces where I feel like I can heal or share or relate, I can only imagine someone who is experiencing poverty or doesn’t have loving parents, or lost a sibling is facing. It breaks my heart. We have to do everything we can. JUMP is a great starting point, but I truly believe it’s only a starting point. Now my intention is to create live spaces where we can be there for each other,” he continued.

“We need more black therapists. We need a database of professionals who are qualified and available. I want to go be able to go get help anywhere at anytime. It has been hard even with all my resources to find someone I trust. As a community, we still aren’t comfortable with therapy.”

According to Siriboe, even he had a hard time accepting therapy as a valid option and he’s not alone.

It has been a process… I needed to understand what I was embarking on. Getting a therapist felt weak to me, initially. What do you mean I need a therapist? What do you mean I can’t deal with myself? Once I learned what therapists did and what they can do and how much there is to learn about mental health, I finally felt comfortable enough to venture into that world,” he explained.

“I don’t have to feel the shame and stigma I inherit just by being born a Back man. We don’t do therapy. We don’t hear it in the lyrics of our music or see it in our movies. Celebrities don’t talk about it until recently. It wasn’t an option for me so I felt like I had to deal with it myself. It’s amazing to have someone to deliberate with who is subjective and just wants what’s best for you. Sometimes it’s as simple as getting it out of your own head. You can break it down and do the work and be held accountable for processing everything. We need as much help to do the work as possible.”

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The actor also shared his thoughts on the Black community’s tendency to tell folks who are struggling to seek God instead of other resources.

“We can’t rely on a God that doesn’t rely on us. God is about empowerment. If we are saying that God is going to take away all these problems then I think it would have been done already. If we keep waiting we will always be waiting. Waiting is just not doing it now,” he said. “If we do believe in God and believe He is going to heal us, He relies on our actions and our faith. I believe God will heal us but how He does that is not our choice. We can’t just sick back and keep dying and keep smoking blunts and keep being depressed and believing some Savior is going to come out of thin air and save us. We are gonna have to do our part.”

Watch JUMP, below: