The letter Cudi published to his fans on social media about facing his mental illness has broader implications for Black America. We need to listen.
Rapper Kid Cudi just gave us a synopsis of the ways in which undiagnosed and untreated mental health problems are zapping the life and blood out of the black community. He probably didn’t mean to. But, honestly, at this historical juncture, who cares? We needed this. We, black people, the nation and the world needed to hear this.
Cudi took to social media to publish a very intimate post about his longstanding battle with anxiety and depression. “Idk what peace feels like,” Cudi wrote to his fans, baring his heart and exposing his wounds in a moment of exceptional vulnerability. His openness — a precious commodity among black people who typically stigmatize mental illness, reduce it to “the devil” or spirit possession and prefer the orthodoxy of Christian resources — comes at a moment in America’s racial history when communal trauma is at an all time high.
Some members of the black community have been encouraged and inspired by Cudi’s actions. After all, his feelings of “shame” for the mere fact of being born with a mental health problem — clinical depression — are not at all new or peculiar to him. Also, people period, let alone black human beings, rarely — rarely — stop to think (if they ever knew, or took seriously to begin with) or remember that when it comes to the chemical wiring that naturally follows from playing the human genetic lottery, things happen. Equally true is the fact that, just as the sociopolitical status quo is adept at psychologically, emotionally and financially penalizing black bodies for being born with the “wrong” human physical features, the mental health status quo behaves the same if you’re born with a mental illness and you’re open about it.
For African Americans, the silence around the impact of mental health problems — even that emanating from within the community — has deadly repercussions. According to a report by Mental Health America, black Americans, a group of people in America bombarded on the daily with a level of psychic adversity and historical socioeconomic disparities that make substance abuse inevitable — if not a welcome diversion — are facing a crisis in the area of mental health. In the past year, more than 16 percent of blacks were diagnosed with a mental illness. A little more than 5 percent of blacks commit suicide each year, according to the Center for Disease Control.
Yet, despite this overwhelmingly disturbing huge statistic, especially given the fact that blacks comprise just 13.2 percent of the national population, black patients are less likely to acknowledge that they have a psychological problem because of the stigma — being labeled “crazy” or “weak” or even disfavored by the Christian God — attached to the community of people diagnosed with mental illnesses.
This is one of the main reasons black patients negotiating with a mental health problem refuse, or are reluctant to seek out the necessary health services and treatment they desperately need that could help them cope with their illness. If and when they do consent to treatment, many report having to navigate their way through racism and microaggressions dished out by therapists.
But the stigma and racial microaggressions associated with mental illnesses aren’t the only reasons blacks avoid treatment, MHA reports. Lack of access to health insurance is another.
One would think that Obama’s Affordable Care Act dealt a huge blow to this seemingly immovable obstacle between communities of color and services provided by the medical industry. However, 15. 9 percent of black Americans are still uninsured, which means a large portion of blacks are white-knuckling their way through their illness.
These facts and numbers alone make Cudi’s commentary about pursuing help all the more powerful. True, the rapper may be rich enough to afford treatment, unlike his low-income counterparts; he may have chipped away big chunks of the apprehensions related to the stigmas coupled with mental illness lodged into his brain, by opting to go into rehab, unlike the thousands of blacks who are still convinced that the only reasonable road forward is to undergo an exorcism. However, there’s a broader picture to keep in mind.
Cudi’s missive is a stark reminder of all the work needed, and that must be done, to ensure that not only the doors of American medical industry are pushed open for black Americans but that, once unlocked, they have the emotional tools and support, both inside and outside their respective race, to walk through.