When therapist Shabree Rawls went viral with a TikTok rant about Black men not seeking therapy, it sparked a debate about mental health in the Black community and she lost her job at a Cleveland mental health practice.
Roughly 25 percent of Black Americans seek mental health care compared to 40 percent of their white counterparts, according to Harvard Medical School.
One in five U.S. adults experience mental illness each year, according to a recent case study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Black and brown communities are disproportionately undertreated.
Many spoke out on Twitter about Rawls and what she said on TikTok.
“Y’all think bches just be talking in ya’ll ear just to be f**ing talking; we don’t. Y’all think bches just wanna argue with y’all because y’all refuse to expand your emotional vocabulary; we don’t,” blasted Rawls, who said her clientele is 90 percent Black men. “It’s to provide clarity for both us and y’all dusty bches.”
Black men are often misdiagnosed, said Travis Harris, an educator in the history and political science department at Hampton University, in an interview with The Moguldom Nation. Harris’ work focuses on Black life and he specializes in race, religion, hip-hop and Black male studies.
Harris said he was surprised by Rawls’ TikTok rant, especially since she is a working therapist.
“Confusion,” Harris replied when asked what he first thought of Rawls’ video.
“I wasn’t sure if it was real, what her motivation was and the overall goal of the video. After more facts came out, it was very disturbing,” he continued.
Harris has been analyzing mental health issues in the Black community, especially among Black men.
“Prior to this video, I conducted research on therapeutic practices for Black males who had been abused. I quickly discovered that clinical studies and scholarship on abuse primarily focused on women as victims,” he noted.
Harris said he found that when men’s mental health was studied, it tended to be the mental health issues of “mainly white men.”
Tommy Curry is an African-American scholar, author and professor of philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, where he is a personal chair in Africana philosophy and Black male studies. In 2018, Curry won an American Book Award for “The Man-Not: Race, Class, Genre, and the Dilemmas of Black Manhood.” His work has been centered on Black males studies and Critical Race Theory. In fact, Curry has been referred to as the “King of Black Males Studies.”
“The work done on Black male victims, outside of Tommy Curry and Black male studies, was basically nonexistent,” Harris told The Moguldom Nation.
Harris spoke further on why he thought Rawls’ video triggered so much debate.
“Even though the video was very troublesome, it made a lot of sense because her training only prepared her to see Black men as abusers. Since they were abusers, they needed to be held accountable.”
Curry also tweeted about Rawls’ viral video.
“Journalists & academics openly admit they hate Black men and are still employed, lauded, and circulated among liberal mainstream media and academic departments as if they are objective and neutral gender theorists. It is laughable at this point how blatant this is” tweeted Prof. TJCurry Ph.D MPH.
Because of the lack of study and attention devoted to the mental health of Black men, they often find themselves misdiagnosed when they do seek out help, Harris said.
“Therapists routinely misdiagnose Black men. When focusing on depression, clinicians may not recognize activities such as using drugs as coping mechanisms,” Harris said. “Black men with depression are also more likely to have what clinicians call somatic symptoms than whites. This is when people have physical problems such as fatigue or pain that cause stress and make it difficult to function and focus.”
He added, “Therapists may misdiagnose these symptoms since they are unique to Black men. Since therapists may not correctly recognize these symptoms, then that raises the possibility of not only missing that they are depressed but also focusing on correcting their symptoms (drinking, anger, inability to focus) and not the root issues of trauma, pain, and depression.”
When asked if he thought the Black community has embraced the fact that mental health is important, Harris answered, “I wouldn’t say we are one monolithic community, we are very diverse as a people. I would say Black communities have always seen mental health as important. We may have missed it due to the way Black people deal with mental health.”
The Black community has dealt with mental health issues through various outlets.
“Religion, whether it’s the church, the mosques, or some other form of devotion, has been the primary healing mechanism,” Harris said. “Our issue with clinicians is more so rooted in a justifiable distrust of them. We are very aware of the experiments that have been done to us. Combine that with taking the step of faith, actually going to see a clinician and then being mistreated makes it very clear why some of us will only talk to someone or see someone when we absolutely have to.”
Society has not been helpful in encouraging Black men to consider professional therapy, and they are often told to “tough it out.”
When many Black men face mental health issues, it can be “so difficult because this feels like a lose-lose situation,” noted Harris.
“The therapist in the video claimed that 90 percent of her clients were Black men. If she made those comments on camera, we can only imagine what she said behind closed doors. I contend that the therapist actually points to a larger problem in that a larger number of therapists are like her. In addition to the lack of scholarship on Black males as victims and the training that contributes to therapists not recognizing Black men as abused, thinking about racism as a misandrist aggression also shows why therapists do not fully see Black men.”
With the dearth of studies done on Black men comes an inability to understand the mental health needs of Black men, Harris pointed out.
“We already acknowledge how counselors’ implicit bias about Black men due to racism may impact how they treat them,” he said. “Black male studies scholars push us to think about how Black men deal with both racialized and gendered oppression. Black men struggle because they are Black (race) and male (gender).”
Harris cited Curry, who theorized that to say “racism is a misandric aggression is to say that racism is a form of dehumanization targeting Black males through lethal violence and sexual caricature with the intent of eliminating this group from society.”
This affects people’s views of Black men–even those of therapists, Harris stressed.
“This manifests in how everyone, regardless of one’s race or gender, sees Black men. Black men are seen as boogeymen, a threat, appalling, and in many ways non-human. Therapists are not exempt from this perspective of Black men,” said Harris, who experienced this problem firsthand.
“This is why even the Black male therapists could not recognize my pain,” Harris said, citing his own experience with a Black male therapist. “He believed the racist stereotypes about Black men and his own Black maleness were not strong enough to repel them. If a Black male therapist can think this way about Black men, imagine what women and non-Black people could potentially think about Black men.”
This sort of attitude leaves Black men stranded in a sense.
“Because of this, going to therapy may not be a good thing for Black men but toughing it out is not good either,” he said. “Depression and anxiety are real. They hinder our ability to function. It creates fears that are not there and contributes to mistrust.”
Mental health issues manifest in different ways for different Black men.
“Some may have trouble sleeping, while others could be low in energy or lack motivation,” Harris continued. “We cannot just be strong enough and overcome it. We need professional help, but professional help from someone who knows how to work with Black men.
Harris said he feels the focus needs to shift when therapists deal with Black men to a better understanding of Black men.
“The healers need to heal from any of their previous traumas from Black men, get rid of their bias, and recognize the oppression Black men endure from being Black and male,” he said.
Harris calls for mass education for all clinicians who work with Black men.
In an article Harris penned, he noted that people tend to forget that Black men can be victims, too. Based on his own experience, he said, therapists are guilty of this as well.
“They must be able to recognize Black men as victims,” he said. “They have to address the issues that lead to misdiagnosing Black men. Lastly, they have to accept that Black men aren’t the only abusers; sometimes, it could be women or people who do not conform to a gender.”
Harris said he started going to counseling after he was unjustly removed from teaching at Virginia Commonwealth University and some struggles he said he cannot publicly divulge.
“As one would imagine, this was a very traumatic experience for me. I was depressed, experienced extreme mood swings, numerous health problems, and I could not sleep,” he said.
But instead of being supported, Harris found himself being blamed by some therapists.
“Ultimately, I was suicidal,” he said. “The third and fourth counselor I went to about this situation stated: ‘You didn’t learn the culture first’ and ‘You must have done something wrong.’ They had to focus on my responsibility and could not imagine me being the victim,” he recalled. He continued, “I was in the counseling session arguing for my humanity, pleading for my pain, and arguing for the therapists to believe me. The worst part about the fourth counselor was that he was a Black man. Even Black male therapists have trouble with seeing Black men as victims.”
Photo by Alex Green: https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-psychologist-with-african-american-client-5699424/