Just Be A Man About It

Co-authored by Kenneth Braswell, the Executive Director of Fathers incorporated (FI), a not-for-profit organization that serves as a leader in the promotion of Responsible Fatherhood and Mentoring. He has over 24 years of community development experience. Mr. Braswell also serves as the Director of the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse (NRFC). The NRFC is a widely recognized national and international resource for fathers, practitioners, researchers, and policymakers.

On Friday, January 8, 2016, the Obama Administration hosted its first ever “White House Dialogue on Men’s Health.” The event featured U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and White House Cabinet Secretary, Mr. Broderick Johnson. Over 200 men and women with expertise in fatherhood programs, medicine, education, social services, and policy attended the forum to share their perspectives on how to keep men healthy.

African American men live sicker and die sooner than men or women from any other racial / ethnic group in the United States. As Kenneth Braswell, Executive Director of Fathers Incorporated put it: “if you can’t stand up or kneel down without making a noise, it’s a clear indicator that you need to be mindful of your health.” The average life span for African American men is 70 years, compared with 76 years for White men, 76 years for African American women, and 81 years for White women. Unfortunately as Braswell ended; “as old men, people won’t care that our socks don’t match, they will only care if you are in the room or not.”

Along with the urgency to address the physical health of men, we also discussed issues of mental health. We now know that major depression is the #1 cause of disability in the world. Mr. Braswell highlighted how he and Dr. Sidney Hankerson are partnering to promote mental health in African American churches.

Depression is often a “silent killer” for African American men, because it looks different than depression in women. Men who are depressed, compared to depressed women, may be more likely to describe feeling angry and irritable; abuse alcohol and other drugs; and, have physical complaints such as headaches and back pain.  Untreated depression is the #1 risk factor for suicide. 

For the first time in our nation’s history, Black children have higher rates of suicide than White children. Racism, cultural mistrust, misdiagnosis, and engaging social support networks play a critical role in how Black children process the environment in which they live. As one participant explained: “Men get their signals about manhood as boys at the first instance of crying.” Systematically we have to recognize that, so that moving forward we understand that solutions for improving men’s mental health will take innovative approaches.

We are closing in on the January 31 deadline to enroll in health coverage in 2016. While African American men are more likely to be exposed to social conditions, such as limited finances, and other socioeconomic inequalities that contribute to health disparities, it is still vitally important that that they are insured. If for no one else, at least for the sake of their families and children.

Dr. Sidney Hankerson is Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. Hire him for a workshop – www.SidneyHankerson.com 

Kenneth Braswell is the Executive Director of Fathers Incorporated and can be followed on Twitter at @fathersincorp. His website is – www.fathersincorporated.com