Stephen tWitch Boss, Suicide and Mental Health Resources for Black Men
News of Stephen “tWitch” Boss’s suicide last week came as a shock to countless fans and other stars alike. How could a celebrity whose life was seemingly filled with so much joy have been struggling internally?
Mental health professionals stress the importance of managing one’s emotional well-being, especially during the holiday season. While the public doesn’t know exactly why or how Boss was struggling, his death represents a sobering reality: That black men in particular have been taught to express their mental health issues is a sign of weakness.
“There’s been this comment that it’s unanimous about how (Boss) embodied love and joy, but you can’t always assume that everyone is okay,” Moe Ari Brown, a marriage and family therapist, says of Boss’s death. “We don’t always think that these societal pressures or systemic issues that tend to affect the majority of a group will continue to affect that person. Sometimes that smile can be a mask for pain.”
Read the obituary:Stephen ‘tWitch’ Boss, ‘Ellen DeGeneres Show’ Dancer and DJ, Dies at 40
The importance of addressing mental health issues
In general, black Americans are less likely to seek formal health care and also less likely to receive proper treatment when they do, experts say. This is particularly dangerous for African-Americans because they live under chronic stress, something experts say humans weren’t designed to endure long-term.
According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress can be caused by factors such as poverty, family dysfunction, or traumatic early childhood experiences. It can lead to despair and hopelessness. Chronic stress in Black communities can include everything from micro-aggressions and police brutality to working on the front lines during the pandemic.
“For black men in particular, there’s a lot of pressure to be less vulnerable, to always show strength, to never show people that things are getting to you, because that strength has also been a tool or a skill that a lot of people have had. have to develop to overcome very difficult circumstances,” says Brown.
Plus:The health of African Americans is in crisis. What does it take to make them okay?
While it’s beneficial to talk to a trusted friend, spiritual leader, or community member, mental health experts say it’s not a replacement for working with a licensed professional.
“Barbershop clergy are usually the de facto therapist, but they won’t be able to talk about everything,” says Benjamin Calixte, co-founder of Therapy for Black Men.
Sometimes the reluctance to seek professional help can also stem from concerns that what they say might be shared with others, Calixte notes. But the therapy is required to be confidential, except in cases of protecting a patient from self-harm or harming others.
“No one has to know except you and your therapist — find a male therapist if that makes you more comfortable,” says Brown. “If you’re worried about what it’s going to look like, I say, ‘nobody has to know now.’ … It’s really hard to break free from the constructions. We all get hit with these gender expectations, but the truth is, we all have feelings.”
Mental health professionals are noticing a turnaround when it comes to Black men’s perceptions of therapy. And representation is vital: both seeing characters in entertainment like Sterling K. Brown’s character “This is Us,” going to therapy, and seeing real-life therapists who look like their clients are important reminders that representation therapy is for everyone.
Plus:Hollywood has a sordid history with portrayals of mental illness. He’s trying to do better.
Resources for the Holiday Season and Beyond
The holiday season can bring difficult and complex emotions. 2014 National Alliance on Mental Health Survey found that 64% of people with mental illness feel that vacations exacerbate their conditions.
For some, it may be because it’s the first party without a recently deceased loved one, Calixte says. Others may have financial difficulties and cannot buy all the gifts they expected for their family. Or they may be very successful and feel additional pressure to meet or exceed expectations in order to prove themselves. And some may go home with families that don’t celebrate their identities, or find themselves excluded from family gatherings altogether.
“Winter in general and the holiday season bring a lot of feelings of loneliness for a lot of people,” says Brown.
Being proactive about mental health can go a long way, experts say.
Plus:The importance of finding a good therapist and why it is so difficult
Y:More Americans have received mental health treatment since 2019, especially young adults and women
- Google can be a great starting point: Calixte recommends using a search engine to begin looking for a “therapist in my area” who deals with whatever issues the potential client is looking to resolve, such as depression, anxiety, or anger issues.
- Group therapy is also a useful option: For those who may be reluctant to meet face-to-face with a therapist, attending a group session can be a helpful introduction, Calixte says.
- Practice hobbies that spark joy and reduce stress: Outside of therapy, Brown suggests trying trauma-informed stress reduction tactics such as listening to music, meditating, practicing yoga, journaling, or using essential oils to engage the body and senses.
And for those who are close to someone who may be struggling with their mental health, experts suggest checking in with how their loved ones are feeling, actively listening, and following up on how they’re coping.
“We have to constantly talk about this,” says Calixte. “We can’t run away from ourselves.”
And as Brown says, “We can’t control anyone else’s story, but I really believe that the little things we do—the sympathy we show, the compassion, the acts of kindness—go a long way.”
If you or someone you know needs support for mental health, suicidal thoughts, or substance abuse, call, text, or chat:
988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: 988 and 988lifeline.org
BlackLine: 800-604-5841 and callblackline.com
Trans Lifeline: 877-565-8860 and translifeline.org
Veterans Crisis Line: Dial 800-273-8255 and press 1 to speak to someone or text 838255 to be connected with a VA responder. You can also start a confidential online chat session at Veterans Crisis Chat. veteranscrisisline.net
Collaboration: Alia Dastagir