Montreal·First Person

The pandemic, combined with a racial reckoning, weighs heavily on Black men's mental health

Black people, especially Black men, don't have the privilege of being able to express all of our emotions, especially anger. Black men have to spend their lives managing and suppressing their feelings in order to avoid being seen as difficult, aggressive or threatening to others.

It's important to seek out community and help, rather than suffer alone

Social expectations of men to not appear vulnerable take on a different dimension for Black men, whose emotions may also be seen as a threat. (Shutterstock)

Living in a pandemic has significantly altered all of our lives. With the restrictions put in place for public safety, many people have been cut off from the things, and people, that have allowed them to maintain a healthy, joyful life. We've lost our usual outlets for managing our emotions and anxiety, making maintaining a balanced life much more difficult.

With people working remotely, there is no longer healthy separation between work and home, nor is there the ability to disconnect and escape daily work stresses (or the stress associated at home by not leaving for work).

Unfortunately, there is still a stigma associated with mental health issues for the general public. Some don't believe or accept that mental illness exists or is something that they can be affected by, and for others it's the stigma attached to addressing their own mental health needs.

For men in particular, there is a stigma surrounding being vulnerable. For many, being masculine or strong is associated with being able to solve their own issues and to be unemotional. This in part explains why a lot of men don't seek social or professional support, and instead suffer alone. This could also be compounded by men who see themselves as being, or needing to be, the "rock" or provider for their family or relationship.

For a lot of men, their ability to release negative emotion and stress comes from social engagements and contexts (gym, sports, bars, time with friends, talks at work, etc.). With these outlets no longer being accessible, the result is men being cut off from their usual sources of support and well-being.

And while all of the aforementioned points above pertain to men in general, Black men face their own unique ailments and barriers, making things increasingly difficult.

While the entire world is struggling with the pandemic, studies have shown that racialized populations have been hit hardest. Beyond that, Black people also have to deal with the ever-present threat of racism. They are constantly bombarded with images, videos and reports of anti-Black racism, police brutality and the murdering of their people.

Suppressed feelings

Black men live in a constant state of anxiety, based on the way we continue to be treated by society. The direct and vicarious racism that Black men experience serves as repeated trauma, perpetuating the anxiety and stress they feel.

Black people, especially Black men, don't have the privilege of being able to express all of our emotions, especially anger. Black men have to spend their lives managing and suppressing their feelings in order to avoid being seen as difficult, aggressive or threatening to others.

Usually, their ability to be successful in their studies or career is predicated on this.

Another barrier is the stigma associated with using mental health services in the Black community — acting as a barrier for Black men seeking help. Due to systemic racism, microaggressions, implicit bias and overt racism, the Black community has an understandable distrust of institutions. Black men have often had their experiences invalidated by those outside of the Black community, leading to them only trusting professionals from the Black community.

Unfortunately there is a scarcity of Black mental health professionals, especially anglophones. This, in turn, leads black men to feeling that there are no appropriate supports for them, and so they do not look to professional support.

How to cope

While there are several barriers that impact the willingness, or ability, for some men to seek support, there are still ways to cope that all can apply. Establishing a routine is essential. That routine should involve some form of physical activity, and time spent outside of the house, at the very least.

The routine is designed to re-establish a sense of control over their mood and emotions, and to provide ways to externalize stress, anxiety or negative emotions. Men would also benefit from giving themselves the time and space to express how they're feeling, in a safe manner.

This could be accomplished by creating time for themselves, and by scheduling regular opportunities to connect with friends and family. It may be easier to have these meetings involve an activity (trivia, cooking, board games, virtual 5-à-7, etc.). While some men may not seek support directly, creating more opportunities to socialize and be around those close to them should facilitate their willingness to talk about how things have been for them, and signal any potential difficulty or need for support.

For Black men, it is imperative that they work toward establishing a sense of community. They may have already had feelings of isolation relative to their minority status here in Montreal, and if they work/study at a predominantly white institution. With the restrictions brought about by the pandemic, including the recent curfew, these feelings of isolation may be exacerbated.

While it will still be beneficial for Black men to have general support, their feeling supported by and connected to the Black community will provide them with a context to express how their race has impacted their current reality. With the constant barrage of incidents of systemic and overt racism, and with Black men often being the target of such injustice, they will need a place where they can express themselves and heal the constant wounds that society inflicts upon them.

CBC Quebec welcomes your pitches for point-of-view essays. Please email povquebec@cbc.ca for details.


This story is part of a special CBC Quebec project Out of the Dark: Real Talk on Mental Health. If you are having a hard time coping, here are some resources that could help.

If you are in crisis or know someone who is, here is where to get help:

  • Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (Phone) | 45645 (Text, 4 p.m. to midnight ET only) crisisservicescanada.ca

  • In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)

  • Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (Phone), Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca

  • Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre


For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Khan Bouba-Dalambaye was born and raised in Côte des Neiges, and is of Trinidadian and Central African descent. He is a graduate of McGill University, and holds a master’s degree in counselling psychology. He has nearly 10 years of experience working as a high school guidance counsellor and clinical counsellor, has taught at the CEGEP level and is a leading diversity, equity, and inclusion expert.

now