Meet The Black Men Making Mental Health Less Taboo

jhon pablo

Corey Lewis and Thomas Drew are the cofounders of 1And1 Life, a digital wellness and lifestyle … [+] brand. Courtesy of 1And1 Life Mental health has been a perpetual taboo in the Black community, despite the fact that Black adults are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems.  […]

Mental health has been a perpetual taboo in the Black community, despite the fact that Black adults are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems. 

Millennials, however, are leading the charge to normalize these conversations, in part due to the heightened trauma resulting from racially motivated murders. Pervis Taylor, mental health advocate, author of Surthrival Mode and life coach, says this is a stark contrast to previous generations’ feelings about mental health. 

“I definitely think mental health is more normalized within our community because many of us who are 40 or younger are more in the space of not continuing to suppress,” Taylor says.

Taylor also feels discussion around mental health in the Black community have improved with the help of celebrities such as Kanye West and DMX, athletes such as DeMarr DeRozan and Paul George, and public figures such as former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., who have opened up about suffering from mental health illnesses including Bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression.

But Black people still lack access to resources and education to help them make informed decisions about their mental health, Taylor emphasizes. 

Corey Lewis and Thomas Drew, the cofounders of 1And1 Life, a digital wellness and lifestyle brand, want to fill this void. The platform provides readers with the latest wellness content and reviews on products vetted by experts in the health space. 

For(bes) The Culture, Forbes’ recently launched hub for Black and Brown professionals, spoke to Lewis and Drew about how they’re working to make mental health education and resources more accessible in Black communities.

For(bes) The Culture: Why do you think mental health is such a taboo topic in the Black community? 

Corey Lewis: The Black community is a prideful one. Unfortunately, mental health issues come with a negative stigma of being weak or lesser than. I also feel like as a whole, we aren’t as educated on the topic as we should be, so it hinders our ability to deal with it and have more discussions about it. We tend to restrict ourselves from going deeper when it comes to dealing with mental health in any way because we already feel like we are behind in life, due to our natural-born skin color, so we don’t want to address or associate with any mental health issues that we feel could potentially put us behind or have us be judged even more. 

Thomas Drew: As a Black man, you’re taught to hold things in, be strong, not share how you feel and always put on that poker face that says, ‘I have it all together.’ There are some things that happen in life where the answer of ‘suck it up’ applies. But when you’re pulled over for driving while Black, get told that you ‘sound white’ because you’re articulate, or you’re told that you got into an Ivy League school because of affirmative action, it’s different when you have to suck those things up. That’s a mental injury, and there’s no timetable on the recovery of those. Those things affect the psyche.

Driving home the point that there is strength in vulnerability is how to make mental health conversation more prevalent on a large scale. This is the reason why I’m so proud of the work that we do at our company by highlighting these raw and real mental health conversations. I’ll never forget when we had Ludacris on our podcast, and he said, ‘You’re at your strongest when you’re most vulnerable.’ Hearing that from a Black man of his caliber was so eye-opening for me.

For(bes) The Culture: How do you debunk negative stigmas attached to therapy? 

Lewis: As someone who has used therapy, and will continue to use therapy to continually better myself and my mental well-being, I believe that people should look to embrace it. There are so many forms of therapy, and there are so many super successful and talented people who lean on different types of therapy to help them optimize their performance in their fields. I believe If we can somehow shine a positive light on all the successful and popular people that lean on therapy to better themselves and show how it contributes towards allowing them to be where they are in life, it’ll ultimately start to debunk the negative stigma that hovers around therapy. 

Drew: This is the analogy I use: Think of yourself as a water balloon and your thoughts, feelings and struggles that you hold inside as water. We all add water to the water balloon each day, especially in these times. If you keep adding water to the water balloon, at some point, it’s going to burst. Therapy is what allows you to release that water and that pressure so that you can think and act clearly.  

For(bes) The Culture: How do you think this heightened racial tension is contributing to mental health in the Black community? 

Drew: It’s very challenging. Corey and I talk about it all the time, especially how exhausting it is. On one end, it is inspiring to see that the deep-rooted systematic injustice is being challenged. With uncomfortable challenges come lasting change, and this is as uncomfortable for any of us as it’s ever been. I’ve always found a way to take stuff like this and allow it to fuel me and motivate me. If I focus on putting everything I have into building our business, doing right by people and giving our consumers and the people that work for us and with us something to be proud of, then it will serve as an example to another Black entrepreneur that they can do it too,  no matter how much they or anyone else may doubt them. The heightened racial tension serves as fuel in my tank to prove anyone wrong that has ever thought ‘a Black man can’t do this’ or a or ‘a Black man should be doing this.’ 

Our mentor in business and in life put it this way for us to think about, and I think about it every day during these times: ‘Be angry. But let your anger guide your planning. Use it to fuel your ambition and your desire to make real change, not a flash in the pan.’

For(bes) The Culture: What are some other effective coping mechanisms/mental health best practices Black people can turn to?

Lewis: Find your wellness routine that works for you, and stick with it. Whether it be some form or combination of exercise activity, meditation, support group gatherings or travel, look to find what makes you feel productive and happy. I can not tell you how beneficial it is for me mentally to exercise or find a way to be active every day, stick to my sleep routine (6 to 8 hours) and touch base with my mentors, my family, friends and people I consider a part of my support system. That is my combination of things that contribute to my ongoing wellness routine, but that’s not to say that the next person won’t be different, and that’s ok! Take the time to find your combination of things that contribute towards helping you find what gets you in a better place both physically and mentally. I guarantee it will help keep you in a positive mental state of wellbeing more times than not. 

Drew: Finding and knowing who your support system is has always been key for me. Create groups on social media or via text amongst your friends and be there for each other. Be real and open about your problems with what’s currently going on and offer support while throwing in some uplifting stuff and comedic relief. The few group chats that I have with my closest friends (all Black men) provide me with at least one belly laugh each day. We also support each other and do a good job of reminding each other to stay focused throughout all of this while reminding each other that we love and support one another. 

Digesting meaningful content is also key, but controlling your media intake and where you get it from is even more important. I’m proud of our company and the amount of mental wellness content that we’ve put out during Covid-19 and also during this time of social upheaval and racial injustice that has proven to be valuable to our audience, and especially valuable to people of color. An article that comes to mind is a piece that Corey did on George Floyd and how to cope. I am working on a piece about Chadwick Boseman and mental fortitude that will be on our site as well. 

When I get up every morning, I make my bed, meditate for 10 minutes and write an entry in my journal before I get on with my day. The hope is that I’m able to look back at my open and honest journal entries and be proud of myself for overcoming one of the toughest years in modern history for Black people, and people in general. As with all things, this too shall pass.

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