The Slap Seen Around the World is a Teachable Moment about Black Men and Mental Health

By Paula Penebaker

Being a Black man in America often means being your brother’s keeper. Yet, when it comes to mental health, many Black men still struggle to tackle this important issue.

Today, this topic is being discussed more openly since actor Will Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock at the Academy Awards. Just moments later, Smith received his first-ever Oscar win, a milestone overshadowed by his earlier confrontation with Rock. Viewers watched Smith experience a rollercoaster of emotions, including happiness, anger and remorse, within the span of one award show.

Dr. Rahn Bailey, a psychiatrist with the W. Montague Cobb/NMA Health Institute and Department Head of Psychiatry at LSU’s School of Medicine, believes this moment highlights the mental health struggles many Black men are grappling with in America.

“Part of the issue is that Black men are not respected and valued at the same level as some other human beings in our society,” Dr. Bailey said. “I don’t think that would have happened if the comedian was not a Black male. Had he been a woman, I don’t think that would have happened. And perhaps had he been a white male, that may not have happened either. It could certainly be those roles are valued more.”

Depression remains one of the most common, yet underrecognized and undertreated mental illnesses among Black men, according to the National Institute of Health. Their mental health is more complex than statistics or clinical diagnoses indicate, as they are forced to balance many unspoken pressures, unrealistic expectations and unfair stereotypes.

“But violence, in any form, does more harm than good 99% of the time — other than self-defense,” Dr. Bailey said.  “And we should be very cautious, initially, when we quickly run to the defense of violence.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has only made matters worse. People are facing new and challenging realities: working from home, unemployment, virtual schooling, lack of in-person interactions. Mental health, especially for Black men, is more important today than ever before.

“As far as COVID, I think the misinformation our society is exposed to now in the healthcare domain is frightening,” Dr. Bailey said. “We have to keep our eye on the ball.”

Worrying about COVID-19, coupled with the devastating loss of loved ones, continues to be a mental health stressor.

Whether Black men are on stage, in the board room or on the block, their emotions and state of mind need to be taken seriously. Their mental health matters.

About Dr. Rahn Bailey

Dr. Rahn Bailey is board certified in Psychiatry and Forensic Psychiatry. He is a nationally recognized expert on gun violence, intimate partner violence, health disparities in minority populations and forensic psychiatry. Dr. Bailey has authored and co-authored over 50 peer-reviewed publications, and he has written books about healthcare reform and gun violence. He is excited about returning to LSU School of Medicine, where he began his faculty career.

For more information about COVID-19 vaccines, visit vaccines.gov. For more information about the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ COVID-19 public education campaign, visit We Can Do This.

Paula Penebaker is a member of the Public Relations Team for CMRignite, a strategic marketing agency in Milwaukee and a partner of the Cobb Institute.

 

 

 

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