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Black men and therapy

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The start of a new year often pushes us to think about how we take care of ourselves, whether it's our closets, our finances, our bodies or our minds. And for some people, that means getting professional help. Therapy can be an important element. And in recent years, being open about having mental health concerns and seeking therapy to address them has become a lot more common. And it's happening in places you might not expect. Like "Rothaniel," the stand-up special from Jerrod Carmichael, the host of this year's Golden Globes. At times, his critically-acclaimed special played more like a therapy session than a comedy routine.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY SPECIAL, "ROTHANIEL")

JERROD CARMICHAEL: I've been trying to be very honest because my whole life was shrouded in secrets, and I figured the only route I haven't tried was the truth.

MARTIN: Depression and anxiety are on the rise among many groups, but Black men in the U.S. are half as likely to receive mental health care as their white counterparts, according to the CDC. Why might that be, and what could change that? We brought those questions to Damon Young. He's the author of "What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir In Essays," and he's written and spoken about his own struggles with mental health and the decision to seek therapy. In a conversation for this week's CONSIDER THIS podcast, I asked him what brought him to that decision.

DAMON YOUNG: For me, there wasn't necessarily, like, an epiphany or an impetus that I could just point to as, like, OK, this is the thing that happened or this is the reason why I decided I need to do it. It was just a thing that - you know what? I need to start being more mindful of taking care of myself, and this is just another aspect of that. So there wasn't necessarily, like, a stigma I had to overcome, it was more of just a I need to do this in order to be a responsible adult.

MARTIN: Do you remember, though, how you thought about it or heard about it? One of the reasons I ask is that the culture is all around us, just like the pop culture of therapy, for the most part, until very recently, has been very much of a specific demographic. Like, there's, like, Woody Allen. Therapy plays a big part in his comedy and his movies. And then there was the character of Tony Soprano, and then there was, like, "The Bob Newhart Show." That's a very specific demographic. And if you get your cues about what you're supposed to do from the culture, you would not necessarily have seen that until very, very, very recently. So I was just wondering if you recall how you first - the thought first occurred to you.

YOUNG: I mean, I think that, to your point, it was the sort of thing that I associated not necessarily with race but with class, with a sort of person who could afford and who also had the space in their life to be able to sit on somebody's couch for a couple hours a week I think that what kind of maybe pushed me - and again, this isn't really, like, this great impetus or great epiphany, but it was this - you know what? I have this anxiety which I've dealt with my entire life. I'm in a space now where I'm in front of a lot of people. I have a lot of responsibilities, not just with my work, but with my family. And so I need some help.

MARTIN: I wanted to ask about Jerrod Carmichael, the comedian. He hosted the Golden Globes. Last year, he premiered this stand-up special. You know, it was extraordinary because it was almost like a therapy session. It was almost like you saw him kind of going through his emotions in real time. And during the special, he makes the decision to come out. I just - I was just wondering what you thought about that. I kind of felt like it did something. It was - it felt kind of like a watershed. I don't know. What about you?

YOUNG: His special is one of the, I guess, the best stand-up specials that I've probably ever seen, and I don't even know if I would call it a stand-up special because there's something different that he was doing with the audience, where he's not necessarily telling jokes. You know, even though there were some parts in it that were meant to make you laugh - but it was - one, it was, you know, him coming out, in a way. And also, you know, there was a vulnerability there that was just so rare and so visceral and so - and, to be honest, intimidating because I attempt to be vulnerable in my work. But when I saw him do that, I felt like my vulnerability still had places to go.

MARTIN: On the other hand, though, I'm thinking about the recent death of Stephen "tWitch" Boss. He was a dancer. He was a big part of "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." He died by suicide. And there have been a number of Black young men and men of a certain age who have died by suicide. And it's just - that has - it just seems - statistically, it just seems sort of that there's something going on. And I just wonder if you have any sense of what you think that might be.

YOUNG: I mean, I can't speak to any of those particular circumstances because I don't know what was going on in their lives. But, you know, I go back to a point that you made earlier about how therapy was associated with people like Woody Allen. And, you know, I've always thought that, even though that sort of humor is associated with, like, a certain class, if anyone's going to be neurotic, if anyone is going to have anxiety, it's going to be someone who is from the 'hood. If any environment is going to make someone need therapy, then it's the environment that so many of us come from, and, you know, plus America, plus racism, plus all of the things that are associated with being Black in America. You know, when you think about the causes and you think about, you know, the environmental factors that cause anxiety and that could cause neuroses, if anyone is going to need therapy, it's probably going to be us.

MARTIN: Do you mind if I ask, since you've been kind enough to get kind of personal with us, is that when you have pursued therapy, did you feel it helped?

YOUNG: I did. I did. Yeah, it definitely did help.

MARTIN: What does it do?

YOUNG: For me, it just made me feel lighter. And obviously, that's in a - like, more of, like, an existential sense, right? I just felt like I was able to take some of the things that I was carrying around with me and finally have a place to put them.

MARTIN: Damon Young is a writer. He's got a podcast coming, and he's the author of "What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker." Damon Young, thanks so much for joining us.

YOUNG: Thanks again for having me.

MARTIN: And if you or someone you know may be considering harming yourself, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can hear more of my conversation with Damon Young and others who talk about what therapy is and what it can do by listening to CONSIDER THIS. You can find it wherever you get your podcasts. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.