Dear Black Men, It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

“Supporting men in their mental health journey begins with not punishing them when they express that they aren’t okay,” Dr. Justin K. Dodson, founder of Navigating Courage, Counseling & Consultation LLC tells EBONY during Men’s Mental Health Awareness Month. “It’s not enough to use popular buzzwords and phrases to appear supportive, we must genuinely encourage men to seek help.”

Dr. Dodson has spent the majority of his career exclusively treating adult male patients, with more than a majority of them being Black men. As a Black man who has experienced his own life traumas—the loss of his father at a young age and a persistent sense of exclusion—it was important for him to ultimately help other men work through their issues as well.

“My services are exclusively for adult men, with 80% of my clientele being Black men. I believe representation fosters relatability and safety. There is a unique language we share that eases tension and allows for a deeper exhale, reminding Black men that seeking help is both safe and, despite any discomfort, absolutely worth it.”

According to a study revealed by the National Library of Medicine, 56-74% of Black males exposed to traumatic events may have an unmet need for mental health services. And, Black male trauma survivors were significantly less likely to be utilizing mental health services than other sex-ethnic groups.

While there are many factors that play a part in this—lack of accessibility, lack of representation, shame in seeking therapy and more—Dr. Dodson stresses the importance of encouraging the Black men in our lives to at least become curious about receiving help.

“All too often, I see friends or spouses speak negatively about therapy to men who are struggling. Given the power of words, discouraging help only perpetuates alienation and hinders healing,” he explains. “When a man seeks therapy and starts to change, it’s crucial not to punish him for showing up stronger or more authentically. Supporting men means recognizing and appreciating the positive changes, even if these changes disrupt old dynamics. Praise the progress you see, even if it means he’s becoming less susceptible to manipulation or control.”

Dear Black men, therapy may seem taboo or you may have been told all of your life that you “need to be a man, and be strong.” We’re here to say, being strong also includes taking control of your health and ensuring you’re able to show up as your best self. Below, Dr. Dodson offers a few tips regarding beginning a therapy journey.

“When beginning therapy, it’s essential to approach it thoughtfully and strategically.”

Envision Your Future: Start by considering how you want your life to be different in the future compared to where you are now. Write these thoughts down as they will form the foundation of your therapy goals.

Research Clinicians: Look into several therapists and schedule at least three consultation calls. This will help you find someone who feels right, is reputable, and aligns with your goals.

Check Insurance and Budget: If you plan to use insurance, confirm that your health plan covers your chosen providers. If you’re paying privately, decide on the investment you’re willing to make in your mental health. Incorporate therapy into your budget without disputing the fee, acknowledging its value.

Commit to the Process: Understand that change is a gradual process. Therapy is effective only if you are fully invested. This means completing assignments between sessions, challenging your therapist when necessary, and not giving up before giving it a genuine chance.

And, even if seeking therapy isn’t in the cards just yet, there are still ways for you to seek a little joy and relief amongst the tough times.

“Connecting with people who uplift and do not harm you and incorporating regular exercise into your routine are crucial steps. Black men, we deserve to thrive, experience life fully, have families, build businesses, spread love and break unhealthy patterns,” Dr. Dodson adds.

Updated: June 13, 2024 — 3:04 pm