Past a lobby populated by children practicing martial arts, two dozen adults convened in a Hempstead auditorium Wednesday night for a conversation that participants said is often avoided: What are the barriers to mental health care for men in Long Island’s Black community, and what are the ways through them?
Some of those barriers are complicated by culture, others involve trust; but overcoming the obstacles to better mental health for Black men starts with communication, according to panelists at the Kennedy Memorial Park event.
“The main thing that I’m very passionate about right now is, what our theme is, let’s talk,” said Pastor Noel Simms, vice president of education for 100 Black Men of Eastern New York, and moderator of the event.
“If you’re feeling down, you’re feeling depressed,” Simms said, “don’t keep it to yourself, let’s talk.”
The discussion was organized by 100 Black Men of Eastern New York, which billed the event as “Let’s Talk About Mental Health.”
Panelists included Don Sinkfield, vice president of the Melville-based New Hope Mental Health Counseling Services; the Rev. Sedgwick Easley of the Union Baptist Church of Hempstead; nutritionist John Jabari Michel; Phil Andrews, president of 100 Black Men of Eastern New York, and Clinton Clovis, president of New Hope Mental Health Counseling Services.
“You find that Black men, because of culture, they would prefer to talk about things with a friend, family member, or go to a church, go to the barbershop,” said Clovis, who is of West Indian descent. “Anywhere but come into a room where they have to sit down and talk about the issues, because of this feeling that they can deal with it without outside intervention.”
Established in the 1960s, 100 Black Men has 110 chapters, Andrews said. The organization focuses on the areas of mentorship, education, health and wellness, and economic empowerment.
Clovis, in an earlier phone interview, said it was important that individuals have access to therapists who look like them, understand their culture, and speak their language. Overall, Clovis said, for varying factors there is resistance in the Black male community to seek mental health treatment.
There is “the idea that as a man — as a Black man — we don’t need help, right, to deal with things that affect us,” he said. “Black men tend to have this tough outlook on life.”
In many cases, he said, this means internalizing feelings and struggling with anxiety and depression.
“Stigma is one of the building blocks that acts as a barrier to effective treatment,” Clovis said. “The whole idea of trusting a mental health provider has been problematic for the Black community.”
The pervasive and elusive nature of mental health issues also calls for extra attention to physical experience, Clovis said.
“Pay attention to what your body’s telling you when you receive a pink slip from your employer. Pay attention to what your body is telling you when you’re experiencing either food or financial insecurity,” he said. “Oftentimes we, as a community, because we don’t have the resources in place, we choose unhealthy ways to deal with it.”