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Black men say stigma stops them from seeking mental health help. A mixer hopes to change that

Six Black men pose in front of a dark gray background.
A mixer on Black men's mental health focuses on the day-to-day struggles faced by Black men in the community and the stigma that holds them back from seeking help.

Black people are less than half as likely as white people to seek mental health services, and Black men are four times more likely to die by suicide than Black women. Addressing the crisis of Black men's mental health, local advocates say, is long overdue.

Black Women Cultivating Change is hosting a Manifestation Mixer Saturday to provide a space for Black men to talk about their experiences living with trauma and learn about mental health services.

"There's a lack for Black men in the community, it's not talked about," said Ashley Glass, owner of the organization. "I wanted to create a safe space for healing, for Black men in our community to just be able to come and kind of open up about what they're experiencing, especially on a day-to-day basis."

The free event includes panelists who plan on discussing issues of racism and empowerment. Local vendors will also be in attendance.

'We all know we're not allowed to show feelings'

Panelist Maurice Stewart, program director at UpSpring, says he's experienced homelessness and the trauma of growing up in poverty in a single-parent household.

"We were expected to kind of just build resilience and power through, which I've graciously had adults in my life that helped me build those resiliency skills that I have today," he said. "However … it was never focused on."

He also owns Moetown Fitness, a gym that focuses on boxing, aerobic and functional fitness training.He describes it as having developed into "kind of like a Black man cave" where he talks to other Black men about challenges they're facing.

"We just have some real honest conversations, whereas you get out in this community sometimes and we try and be vulnerable and talk about those things, you know, it's often kind of not accepted and it's kind of sometimes looked over like 'Oh, you're a man. Get over it, push through.' And it's like, 'No, we shouldn't have to. We have feelings too.' "

He plans on discussing at the event, among other things, the correlation between fitness and mental health.

Danny Fresh Da Barber also thinks of his responsibility in the community as one where he can create a non-traditional space for Black men to talk about their experiences, too.

At his barber shop is in Bond Hill, which he says is "the heart of the hood," he sees the struggles Black men and boys experience daily. Over time, he's come to be like a psychologist, nephew or uncle to the people he sees regularly.

"I just feel like the facts should be put out to our community. People should know about mental health and how it is hurting us. You know, it's like one of the solid killers [of Black men.] I just read an article that said more Black men are dying or committed suicide at a higher rate," he said. "I feel like, people don't talk about everything that we deal with as Black men. We all know that we're not allowed to show feelings. We're not allowed to show that we have emotion. We're looked down upon for being ourselves sometimes, and that right there causes mental illness."

Both Fresh and Stewart say stigma is the biggest thing keeping people away from seeking help for mental illness, and the effect of that is apparent.

TheNational Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparitiessay Black people are 20% more more likely to have serious psychological distress than white people and less likely to seek treatment.

The institute says Black people are less likely to get an accurate diagnosis for mental health issues, have less access to insurance, and are less likely to see other Black people working in mental health services.

Ashley Glass says that's why Saturday's event is necessary to the community — so people can learn about services and possible free or reduced price options for treatment.

The event is happening from 5–8 p.m. Saturday at The Arts on the Ave, located at 2141 Central Avenue. Visit Eventbrite to sign up.

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.