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Men, If You Need Help, Ask for It – Especially in Times Like These

Gerard Littlejohn — June 11, 2020 — 4 min read
This guest post was contributed by Gerard Littlejohn, Executive Director of the Steve Smith Family Foundation.

Man. This is a lot. In a year everyone was looking forward to, making comparisons to 20/20 vision and entering a new decade – this year has been, well … tough.

A global pandemic with COVID-19 breaks out, the complete shutdown of life as we know it. Schools, businesses, mass gatherings. All gone.

Some of us have lost jobs. Some of us are fortunate to have kept our jobs. Some of us have picked up unpaid side hustles as elementary school teachers.

Then, layer on the senseless murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd at the hands of the police.

Sheesh. It’s a lot to process. The world feels like it’s in a tailspin. That’s true even for me, as a nonprofit leader – someone many may consider a person of influence.

You want to know why it’s tough? Because before I was in the position I’m in now, before working in corporate America, or in professional sports, or even going to college – I’m a black man. It’s who I’ve always been, and it’s who I’ll always be.

Being black has its own set of experiences.

I’ve had to deal with cops pulling me over for no reason at all, or even being pulled over because I “matched the description of a robber” in college. It was then when I was illegally searched, patted down and harassed by an officer on the campus of UNC Charlotte.

I’ve been called a racial slur during a football game in middle school. I’ve been questioned about why I’m flying in first class, and what job I do by the drunk white man seated next to me. Even in elementary school, I didn’t get an invite to someone’s house because I’m black.

Seeing the video of George Floyd being murdered, and the subsequent days to follow stirred up those experiences and more for me. I grew up in Lexington, North Carolina – a town with a history of systemic racism and oppression of black people. So racism and injustice aren’t strangers to me. I’ve lived it.

Add social media and the spewing of voices from every angle, and it made for a recipe of stress and a not-so-good mental headspace for me last week.

I was angry. I was disappointed. I was saddened. I was, well, a wide range of emotions that sometimes changed on an hourly basis.

So much so, that I decided to schedule time with my therapist. Yes, I’m a black man who regularly sees a therapist.

June is Men’s Health Month. It’s already tough as a man to process your own self-care and mental health. Many of us are husbands, fathers, boyfriends, uncles, and friends – what I’m saying is we wear many hats.

Plus, we naturally want to lead our families and loved ones. We want to be providers.

When you’re a black man, there’s an entirely different level to it. You have to do all of the above, plus fight against your own plight of injustice. And it happens at every level, from the board room to the blue-collar. None of us can avoid it. 

And what do we do? Compound our feelings internally. Drown in our own sorrows. Never ask for help.

As I reflect on this, I’m thankful for two things. First, that I made a conscious decision to break the stigma of minorities seeing mental health professionals. It doesn’t make me crazy. I’m not “off my meds” or any other harmful language we tend to use for people seeing a therapist. I’m simply allowing a professional to harness, gather, and process my thoughts in a safe and healthy fashion. I go as often as I feel. At times, it’s been weekly. At other times, it’s been on a quarterly basis throughout a year.

Second, I’m thankful for outlets. These are the people who I can turn to that allow me to just be, well … me. Whether it’s my wife with whom I’ll often word vomit my day to, or my group of friends since childhood that I can share my thoughts and feelings with in a safe space without worry of social media canceling me. I have a brother and trusted colleagues to share life with as well.

I say all of that to say this – take care of yourself. We’re at a time in this world that we’ve never seen before. Our mental health as men matters. Not just for us, but for those around us.

The time is now to be whole.

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