African Americans often face medical illnesses at higher rates than their white counterparts and several organizations and health professionals are working to combat those numbers. Orchestrated with the intent to inform, and empower Black men across the District, some of Howard University’s top medical professionals, administrators, and professors collaborated to present the Men’s Health Conference, addressing a litany of topics concerning the health outcomes of Black men in Washington, D.C.
Sponsored by Amerigroup, and the Howard University Cancer Center, the conference was held at the Howard University Hospital Walter E. Lester Auditorium. There, medical practitioners, clinical psychologists, educators and cancer warriors, opened the conversation to a compelling analysis examining social determinants and topics influencing the current state of Black men’s overall health.
“A lot of people will say that Black men don’t want to take care of their health, but that is not true. It’s great to make the information available, but you have a different impact when you take the services to the individuals and you build the relationships,” said Clinton Burnside, MPH, Host, and “Men Take Ten” program manager for Howard University Cancer Center.
The American Journal of Preventive Medicine reported risk factors for chronic disease are found to be substantially greater in Black men compared to their white counterparts in 2018, with Black men showing a higher prevalence of severe grade-three obesity and hypertension. The prevalence of stroke in Black men, for example, is nearly 80% higher than that in white men.
Likewise, the state of mental health among Black men does not fare much better, as the American Psychological Association reports that only 26.4% of Black and Hispanic men between ages 18 and 44 years old who experience depression or anxiety were likely to seek mental health services, compared to 45.4% of non-Hispanic White men with the same emotional experiences.
Panel members shared the importance of recognizing how the health disparities of Black men often present themselves in a more nuanced manner than within other populations. While struggling to overcome the social anxiety attached to seeking professional medical or mental attention, the structural absence of Black male physicians within these spaces makes for an often uncomfortable experience for Black people as a whole, and in particular, Black men. There is a significant gap in the number of Black psychologists available, with as little as 4%t of Black professionals within the doctoral level of the psychology workforce.
Dr. Wayne Evans, Ph.D., MS, a clinical psychologist with Practical Alternatives, LLC, shared some of the major deterrents separating Black men from proper mental health care.
“I think there are [several] reasons why African American men, in particular, are not seeking mental health services; number one is the stigma in our community. The second has to do with the quality of the services that are available to brothers,” said Evans.
The clinical psychologist also emphasized the importance of cultural competency when working with Black men.
“Being a good therapist is like being a good theologian. If you don’t understand culture, context, and language, you are going to misinterpret the story,” Evans explained. “And so a lot of brothers will go in there and try to get some help in [sharing] things, and somebody will make them feel like [they] are dangerous. I think a lot of brothers don’t seek out those services because they don’t feel heard and they don’t feel seen.”
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While Black men do not feel comfortable within the walls of a physician’s or therapist’s office, Evans noted that many Black men find their solace within social spaces like the chairs of local barbershops– a cornerstone of support systems providing Black men a sanctuary of sorts for their distress, need for advice, and even moments of joy.
Audience members, the majority being men, soaked in information and words of advice from panelists articulating the importance of health literacy, access to health care, and power in advocating for their health.
Associate Professor of Surgery for Howard University, Pamela Coleman, MD, FACS stressed the dire importance of seeking proper screenings for Black men to address health issues, particularly specific to prostate cancer.
“What we are seeing now, is that when Black men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, if you correct the socioeconomic factors, they do better than white men with treatment for prostate cancer,” Coleman said.
The associate surgery professor also emphasized the importance of Black men being proactive in their health outcomes by showing and being their strongest and best advocates.
“When people are making health decisions for us, we need to be at the table so we can say look, African American men have a little bit of a different history,” said Coleman. “We need to be at the table, we need to be there.”