(Bloomberg) -- The death of Stephen “tWitch” Boss, the dancer who rose to fame on So You Think You Can Dance and as the DJ for The Ellen DeGeneres Show, has sparked a discussion about mental health, particularly among Black men and other men of color.
Boss’s death was ruled a suicide by the LA County Medical Examiner. He was 40. His wife, Allison Holker Boss, said in a statement to People that he was “the backbone of our family, the best husband and father, and an inspiration to his fans.”
The suicide rate among men in 2020 was four times higher than among women. White and Native and Indigenous peoples have the the highest rates of suicide in the US, according to the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 2018 and 2020, the adjusted suicide rates for Black and Hispanic people in the US have increased, prompting mental-health experts and community groups to double down on providing help to these historically underserved communities.
In the wake of the news, people urged others to take mental health seriously and seek support. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a Thursday press briefing that Boss’s death was tragic. Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will be meeting with crisis counselors on Friday, she said. The director and producer Tyler Perry opened up about his own experience with suicidality in a video on Instagram and urged people to “reach out to someone. Call and ask for help.” Rad Lopez, a Peloton instructor, used the hashtag “RIPtWitch” on Instagram Stories when he urged followers to check in with their mental health daily.View this post on Instagram
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“Fellas, please speak your truth, your triumphs, your pain,” Lopez wrote. “Write it down. The ability to feel is a blessing that we should never strip ourselves of. Awareness makes you stronger, wiser, better.”
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention stresses on its website that mental health and suicidal risks are not synonymous. People who feel they are at immediate risk can call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988. Other support is available for people looking to take care of their mental health.
On Wednesday, the Chicago nonprofit Coffee, Hip-Hop & Mental Health staged a community session for people processing the news of Boss' death as well as their own mental health struggles.
“It’s really important to hold space in real time,” said Christopher LeMark, the founder and chief executive officer of the nonprofit, which provides Black people with mental-health services. “People need good people, and you need to be able to tap into those spaces that accept you for who you are.”View this post on Instagram
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Experts recommend seeking mental-health support in good and bad times. That can be daunting, particularly given the cost. Therapy can cost patients anywhere from $50 to $300 per session, on average. Around 59% of therapists accept insurance, and some therapists offer sliding-scale payment options based on a client’s income or other factors.
Another problem is that many men of color may struggle to find a therapist who shares their background or lived experience. In 2020, 84.5% of the psychology workforce in the US was White and 71% was female, according to American Psychological Association data. And the discrimination that Black people disproportionately face when seeking healthcare overall can extend to mental health, the National Alliance on Mental Illness notes.
“When you find a clinician who can relate to what you're feeling, or who at least has the culture of humility to say to you, ‘I don't fully understand it, but that's something I want to explore with you,’ that adds to that person's validation,” said Victor Armstrong, the chief diversity officer of RI International, a rehabilitation center.
The AFSP and other associations provide resources for people who want to connect with a mental health professional. Alfiee Breland-Noble, the founder of the Aakoma Project, a mental-health non-profit for youth of color, stressed that “One size does not fit all” when it comes to suicide prevention and mental health support.
“We have to understand background, we have to understand external stressors, we have to understand institutionalized racism and how all of these things negatively impact the mental health of men, boys, and people of color,” she said.
Challenge Cultural Stigma
Finding a therapy outlet they can trust can be particularly important for men and boys from underrepresented backgrounds, said Howard Stevenson, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.
“Once they got services they trusted, not only did they use them, they benefited from those mental health services, whether they were traditional or non-traditional,” Stevenson said. That can also happen in informal environments, according to a 2021 report that he authored. Barbershops whose workers were given intervention training provided a valuable space for support and conversation.
Still, research has shown seeking mental healthcare is often seen as a weakness by Black Americans.
“Social norms dictate to men historically that demonstrating emotion or feeling your full range of emotions, including sadness and crying and tearfulness — those things are seen as weak,” said Breland-Noble. “They have not been permitted to ask for emotional help without there being negative consequences.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.
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