Discussing mental health isn’t common in the black community, so Michael Sam’s public vulnerability is noteworthy.
Ahead of next Saturday’s #SAYNOTOSUICIDE live broadcast that can be heard anywhere in the world via www.TheDrVibeShow.com, I, as the moderator and organizer of the online forum, have not only been marketing the program through various mediums – including an in-studio interview at IHeartMedia (Philadelphia) – but I’ve engaged in conversation with suicide survivors, edited their words for publication and even brokered a relationship between Comcast, the world largest cable company measured by revenue, and the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, a billion dollar healthcare agency, to make mental health care digital content and resources more accessible to Philadelphians via www.PhillyinFocus.com.
All of the aforementioned activities, particularly the broadcast, were inspired, mainly, by the suicide death of Mr. Anthony Riley, a 28 year-old Philadelphia street performer who achieved worldwide fame as a contestant on NBC’s The Voice.
In the August issue of Philadelphia Magazine under a headline that appears in print as “The Voice,” the author Malcolm Burnley, who will appear on the #SAYNOTOSUICIDE live broadcast from 1:30pm-1:45pm, writes, in part:
“The mental slide that preceded his suicide was simultaneously unique to Anthony and common among black Americans. Blacks are much more likely than whites to report experiencing depression, but they’re only half as likely to seek mental health treatment. Historically, blacks are more mistrustful of the medical system than the larger population, and that has engendered a sense of self-reliance in solving mental problems. In fact, many in the black community don’t even consider such problems to be mental illnesses.“
Mr. Riley, as the article suggested, was raised to suck up his problems and not let the world see him vulnerable, which is a stark contrast to how Mr. Michael Sam, another young black man who captured the attention of the world, dealt with his struggle(s).
On Friday, August 14, 2015, Mr. Sam, an openly gay man – as was Mr. Riley when he died – announced on Twitter that, due to concerns about his mental health, he was stepping away from professional football.
Here’s what he wrote:
“The last 12 months have been very difficult for me, to the point where I became concerned with my mental health. Because of this I am going to step away from the game at this time. I thank the Alouettes for this opportunity and hope to be back on the field soon.”
With so much celebrity, it can be easy to forget that Mr. Sam is a young person – as was Mr. Riley – who came of age and to grips with his sexuality in the public eye, which attracted both ridicule and reverence.
In my opinion, Mr. Sam was brave to have disclosed his sexuality, and he’s even braver to speak openly about the status of his mental health.
Mr. Sam’s young life should be celebrated, if for no other reason than because he decided to keep it and work through his diminishing mental health, rather than commit suicide, which is a growing practice now among black teens and young adults, according to a 2009 National Institutes of Health study.
“What distinguishes those folks who do take their lives from those who push on?”
I didn’t quite have an response when that question was posed, and I still don’t, but Mr. Sam and Mr. Riley is that distinction that Ms. Morrill speaks of, and I’m sure a deeper dive into their past would provide an answer of substance.
But nonetheless, in the present, the public lives of Mr. Riley and Mr. Sam provide us all a timely reminder that if #BlackLivesMatter, then mental health care for black lives should matter, too.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™
Photo: Getty Images