In an honest and unfiltered interview at theGrio‘s studios in New York City, radio host Charlamagne The God and Deputy Editor, Natasha S. Alford, unpacked the stigma around mental health in the Black community and how to overcome feelings of depression and isolation.
While there’s been a more recent cultural shift to be open about everything from seeing therapists to having anxiety, mental health and mental illness are still tricky subjects across the board, but particularly in the Black community.
For many, getting counseling is a sign of weakness. For those who have endured trauma or watched generations before them endure trauma, therapy can seem unnecessary.
The two hosts dove into the issue of keeping secrets and “powering through” when we really need support, with Alford revealing for the first time on-camera that she lives with lupus and went to therapy to work through her diagnosis.
Charlamagne, who recently authored the book Shook Ones: Anxiety Playing Tricks On Me, talks about his own anxiety and father’s suicide attempt, while discussing how unfair expectations on Black men create stress.
Watch the full video above and read highlights from the conversation below.
Natasha: What do we need to cancel in the black community when it comes to mental health? One of the things we discussed was keeping secrets or feeling like we can’t tell what’s really going on in our lives.
Something that I’ve recently started to talk about is having lupus and living with lupus. I remember going through a lot of depression because I was keeping it to myself. I wasn’t talking to anybody about it. I was doing well on the outside but on the inside, I felt like I had so many unresolved feelings about it. And the power of starting to talk about it, I already feel different.
Charlamagne: That’s because you’re a truth-teller and you kind of knew you were living a lie so to speak. You know what I mean? Like, it’s okay to not be okay.
And I truly believe that sometimes God allows things to happen to us so he can work through us. So now you just even sitting up here talking about that is going to inspire mad people….
You’re doing it so you can be free. It’s the same thing with me when it comes to my anxiety, my PTSD, I’m doing this for me. And in the process, we’re helping others because of the platform that we have. So you have to share that experience.
Natasha: Yeah, definitely.
Charlamagne: You honestly have no choice, that’s why it drives you crazy when you don’t talk about it. Anything I’m going through, I have to share it because I know that I’m going through this experience for a reason. I truly don’t believe in good or bad experiences. I believe everything is a part of one long process and every experience is meant to be shared.
“I truly don’t believe in good or bad experiences. I believe everything is a part of one long process and every experience is meant to be shared.”
Everything. And we black, like, we don’t waste nothing. I don’t even eat pork but think about all the different uses for the hog. We even eat the brains, chitlins, the guts, everything. Every little– every good, bad, ugly experience that we have, right, we got to share…we have to. That’s how you help other people.
Natasha: Yeah… I often say that, you know, isolation is the devil’s playground. And when the devil gets you alone, he can get in your mind and tell you all the lies in the world, and there is no one there to counterbalance that lie. To say that that is not true and you will succeed and you will be okay and you’re not alone and you’re not to blame for those things.
Charlamagne: Because that’s honestly truly how I feel. I didn’t set out to write a book about mental health. I literally was just talking about my experiences. That’s why I say God lets things happen to you so he can work through you. I was literally just talking about my experiences.
And then next thing you know, I got all these pages. And it’s like okay… my book agents–Nina and Jan– they was like, ‘Yo, you should reach out to a therapist and have a therapist in the book with you.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, word.’ And they recommended Dr. Ish Major…black man.
Natasha: So smart. That was such a great idea.
Charlamagne: I mean… That’s perfect. So I had him coming in giving the clinical correlations and it’s just like now, this is something that’s really therapeutic for me. And it really did help with my mental health because I got it out. Same way with you.
You expressing the fact that “Look I got lupus and I’m living with lupus…” I know you feel the weight off your shoulder. I know you feel free right now. I know the feeling. I know exactly how you feel right now. It’s like you’re not hiding anymore. You’re not fronting anymore and that’s the biggest thing with me.
Like, you know you’d be out and about and somebody be like, ‘Oh…Yo, Charlamagne, I rock with you, know what I’m saying. You so real, you keep it real.’ But in my mind, I’m like I ain’t really being a hunnid with y’all.
Natasha: And it doesn’t feel good.
Charlamagne: It don’t feel good. I’m like at 90. Right now, I’m at like 90… I still got some other things I need to get off my spirit but I’m not quite ready yet and I don’t know why.
But I know that when God is ready for me to share… even those experiences… It’s going to be big. I’m not going to say it’s going to be big–big in a way …it’s going to be big for me. It’s going to make me feel even more for freer. So I applaud you and commend you.
“so many of us think that we’re alone and we’re not alone. And I really truly do believe its strength in the tribe.”
I can’t remember the exact quote Jenifer Lewis said when she was on The Breakfast Club. When she was like, ‘we’re only as strong as our secrets.’ Maybe I’m misquoting her but I think that’s what it was or something.
But it’s like, yo, why didn’t I know my father was in therapy 200 times a week. Why didn’t I know my father tried to kill himself? My father is somebody who came to talk to me when I was feeling suicidal at one point in my life. He was the one who talked me off the ledge.
That was the perfect time, dad, to tell me your story.
Natasha: Open up, right?
Charlamagne: You didn’t even express that to me. You know what I’m saying. You know why?
Because we got to be Tupac all the time. We can’t be Donald Glover.
Black men can’t be Drake. You know what I’m saying…we got to be DMX. We can’t ever show any type of weakness. It’s like if I’m showing weakness and I’m talking to you, you got to be extra strong because I don’t want to hear about you being weak or you having weak moments. When in actuality that’s what’s gonna make me feel stronger, knowing that I’m not alone.
That’s all I’m realizing right now is that so many of us think that we’re alone and we’re not alone. And I really truly do believe its strength in the tribe. It’s strength in the village. Its strength knowing that other people deal with anxiety or other people deal with PTSD or other people feel trauma.
I’m not the only person driving and I got my 10-year-old in the passenger seat and my three-year-old in the back. And a police car gets behind me and I’m like man…every single nasty scenario in my head pops in my brain. Like it’s dark. I know how police roll when it’s just me in the car. One coming from each side… you know…what if the cop walks up and he sees my three-year-old in the back seat, you know, just playing with anything, he don’t know.
I don’t even want to think about that. But that’s the type of scenarios that go in my head.
It’s good to know that other people suffer from the same kind of parental paranoia or that same type of anxiety. It lets me know I’m not the only one.
And now we can share the remedies, we can share the treatments.
You know I’m saying. My father was telling me how… Now, he just dismisses those negative thoughts out of his mind when that depression comes. He just knows it’s not real.
He understands. He’s been to therapies, taking medication, he understands that that’s just the funk that he’s in at that moment. He can get out of that. You know… And it’s like the same thing… like I need to know that… I need to know about therapy. I need to know these resources exist. We gotta stop keeping secrets from each other.
Natasha: Absolutely. It’s power in supporting each other.
Charlamagne: A hundred percent.
Natasha: If we’re not going to do it, nobody else will.