Highlighting the significance of Black men's mental well-being at the forefront of Atlanta conference.
Author’s note: The discussion of suicide is a recurring theme within this narrative. In the year 2019, as the days counted down to the tragic loss of Camilla Harris' father to suicide, she witnessed firsthand the treacherous battles that mental illness can wage against men of color.
“My father knew that we loved him and that I loved him, but during the 72 hours prior to his decision to end his own life... he was not himself. On that fateful day, I realized that he had transformed into someone unfamiliar,” stated Harris.
In the midst of her grief, she came to recognize that her father was not a singular entity. Many of the men in her surroundings also contended with emotions of depression and mental health challenges.
Given the apparent and constant acts of racial violence and alleged patterns of systemic abuse against African American men in recent times, Harris found it effortless to comprehend why this was the case.
“Now, this is just my personal viewpoint and I have no qualms expressing it, but I believe that Black men are the most despised group in the world,” she asserted, while adding, “The world has already predetermined their downfall... they begin each day with burdens already weighing them down.”
According to statistics from the National Institution of Health, suicide ranks as the third leading cause of death for African American males aged 15 to 24, and African American men aged 20 to 24 exhibit the highest suicide rate among African Americans of all ages, regardless of gender.
Motivated by her desire to establish a safe haven for men to engage in conversations about mental health and well-being, Harris spearheaded the creation of the Black Men’s Mental Health Conference. This platform serves to discuss the struggles of life, mental health obstacles, and the healing of trauma experienced by contemporary Black boys and men.
“We must eradicate the stigma and misconceptions because the average individual experiencing a mental health crisis or contemplating suicide may be sitting right beside you.”
Camilla Harris, the initiator and coordinator of the Black Men’s Mental Health Conference, hopes that the event, planned for Saturday, June 15, at the City of South Fulton Southwest Arts Center, will generate discussions that challenge the negative stigma surrounding mental illness and depression within the African American community.
“There has always been this assumption that someone grappling with mental health problems is running aimlessly through the streets in a state of madness,” she claimed. “We must dispel that stigma and change that mindset because the average person experiencing a mental health crisis or considering suicide could be sitting right next to you.”
Harris contends that the lack of representation within the field of healthcare as a whole often leaves men of color with fewer resources and less knowledge regarding mental health, in comparison to their white counterparts.
Additionally, she acknowledges that conventional gender expectations dissuade men from exhibiting what may be seen as vulnerability from a young age, thereby discouraging them from seeking mental health treatment or counseling later in life.
“Girls can express their emotions freely and without judgment, but when boys shed tears, it becomes problematic,” the event organizer remarked. “There has never been an equal playing field for boys to express their emotions, and what we often overlook is that boys eventually grow into young men, and if these men have never had the opportunity to openly showcase any form of emotion, their feelings become suppressed and eventually result in what I call an explosion.”
“I want [the attending men] to depart from the conference feeling loved, wanted, and connected. I eagerly anticipate the joy and camaraderie that will permeate the day and bring us together.”
While she possesses an ardent enthusiasm for the lives that this event aims to impact, she is equally grateful for the chance to utilize this platform as a means to honor the memory of her departed loved one.
Reflecting upon God's command to save my father, I initially found myself perplexed because my father is no longer amongst the living. However, as I attentively absorbed His message, the purpose became clear to me - it is my duty to rescue any man bearing resemblance to my dear father.
Should you find yourself entangled in a crisis or seeking assistance to aid another, I implore you to connect with The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. By dialing 988, you will be linked with an empathetic and certified listener who can offer invaluable support and guidance.
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