By Dianne Anderson
War is no joke, but the battle of the war within has provided some fodder for Tyrome “Mac Rome” Thompson to get through the dark places of his past.
It’s also where he’s learned to laugh in the face of adversity, and try to lighten the load for others.
Thompson volunteers with a program at Loma Linda VA Hospital that helps other veterans with PTSD forget about their problems and get access to mental health resources through comedy.
“A group of us provide tickets for them for comedy shows, baseball games, different outlets, and of course we do group therapy,” he said. “I have a strong desire to make sure that nobody else goes 20 years without getting the help they need living in the car, homeless.”
He is one of several men joining up for the continuing African American Mental Health Coalition “Express Yourself Beautiful Black Man” series, where he is hosting the event on Saturday June 5 from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
For many years, Thompson said things were more ludicrous than laughable. At times, he survived on the streets from one moment to the next, self-medicating with alcohol until he was 43.
“I was living in my car, I was still going to work every day, which is really crazy and I was still doing comedy shows,” he said. “I used comedy to help save myself. I used it to cope with stressors, to take up the time I used to be depressed.”
He attributes his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression to his time in the Gulf War, and how he and many others did not come out the same way as they went in. At 17, he went into the Navy, and was divorced before he was 21.
By the time he got out in 1993, he said the government wanted to save money, not spend money, on the soldiers.
“The whole Gulf War Syndrome was just starting. A lot of us were getting sick and they didn’t know what it was. It’s been 30 years,” he said. “These days when a soldier or sailor gets out, they send them directly for mental health help.”
About six years ago, he was linked to rehab in a mental health facility where he lived for a while, and where he remained determined to help others laugh.
“I was doing comedy even in the mental hospital. I would just tell jokes to the patients,” he said.
With medication, he stabilized and moved into an apartment, and everything started to fall into place. Through his GI Bill, he purchased his first home three years ago. Today, Thompson does standup comedy in cities around the country. He stays busy and laughter keep him in the right space.
“If I’m planning something that has to do with comedy, I don’t have time to be wrapped up in depression,” he said.
Local therapist Jarron Clark is also facilitating a workshop in the upcoming event, and said that comedy is one helpful tool that many people turn to deal with mental health and everyday stressors of life.
Clark has worked nearly two decades working in mental health services, including individual, family, solution-focused therapy, and grief counseling.
Particularly for Black men, he feels the need to peel back the layers of stress from the constant bombardment of police abuse, dealing with hate crime, high unemployment, to name a few.
“Myself and many other Black male therapists are making headway in providing increased services for Black men. We’re encouraging Black men to seek out therapy. If you’re resistant to therapy, seek out a support group to get involved in to help yourself, and improve your mental health,” he said.
Whenever he can, Clark tries to tear down the stigma of mental health in the community. He has worked for one of the largest mental health clinics in Los Angeles, and believes it’s important to infuse mental health resources into everyday conversations.
Clark is facilitating a workshop in the “Beautiful Black Man” series, and he commended Linda Hart, founder of the African American Mental Health Coalition for hosting the event. Access to resources isn’t as available in the inner city as in white communities, but he is seeing some progress lately.
“I see improvement regarding the increase and seeking mental health therapists within the community. There are a lot of Black male therapists and we’re out here doing the work,” he said.
Health advocate Linda Hart, founder and CEO of AAMHC, developed this series because she saw the need for Black men to have a safe place to talk about their issues. Also, she said they are rarely characterized in a positive light.
“It’s always negative, they’re either shot or killed, there’s always something happening to them. That narrative has to change,” she said. “They’re beautiful. They’re phenomenal.”
This time around, several facilitators are covering a variety of topics. Men can enter the online platform and get specific areas of help, or just talk about their needs with each other from their perspective.
Hart said that Black women are also participating to offer support and uplift, but the series is exclusively focused on the men.
“The messaging is coming through our Black men to share and to show that our men are beautiful, talented and gifted. It’s all of the positive images to offset all of the negative as to who Black men are,” she said.