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Local and national wellness advocates are working to further the conversation surrounding Black men and mental health. On April 22, Generation DMV, in partnership with The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the Black Physicians & Healthcare Network, held the event, “Men + Mental Health Edition.”

“Good mental health for men of color is wealth.  I wanted to give men an avenue to discuss mental health and a safe space where we tell them that it’s OK not to be OK,” said Sandra Nnaji of Just 1 PR who planned and facilitated the event.  With men often encouraged to be tough and handle problems with grit, this meeting fostered the understanding that there are times when men too need to be treated with softness, compassion and grace.

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s ”Mental Health Facts for African Americans,” Black people are less likely to seek or receive consistent mental health care, less frequently included in mental health research, and more likely to use the ER or primary care rather than mental health specialists.

For the panelists, many of whom were entrepreneurs, key components to maintaining mental health were: reducing workloads to make time for things that are really important, learning how to say “no,” and remembering to be grateful for past accomplishments as opposed to feeling like failures when present goals don’t always materialize.  

“There is an unpopular opinion to live life just to be happy,” said media personality and comedian Joe Clair, 54.  “I adopted the philosophy not to chase a career or wealth but to choose to live life for a living.  Adopting that philosophy, the balance fell into place.”

Christopher King, 36, of Theo Academy shared that he has learned that there is no balance, but there is harmony.  He stressed the need to block out time for oneself, scheduling time on the calendar for hobbies, family and even games to maintain harmony outside of work.  He credits these habits as key to alleviating unnecessary stress and improving his mental health.

Panelists shared that pursuing sound mental health also required unlearning many beliefs and habits that had been instilled since childhood.  

The Media Prince, 32, shared that the first time he ever saw his father was at his funeral.  Seeking to break many negative familial patterns, he sought to forge a new history. 

“I had to unlearn being defined by my family’s expectations,” he said.  Now, “the first college graduate and successful entrepreneur in my family, I have set a new definition of what’s possible for my nieces and nephews but most importantly, for myself.”

Nels Cephas of DC Now Events, said being aligned with people who look like you in a safe environment creates trust and confidence, not only in oneself, but in the greater community.  

“Being in the room with other young brothers that look like me and to learn from their experiences, whether good or bad, forges a bond.  And having a group that understands you is critical to good mental health.”

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