The Realities of A Black Man...An overdue need for Self CareJun 17, 2022 11:30AM ● By Mac Johnson
Image: Counselor Alphonso Nathan
“I believe that we as a people, especially Black men, because of our limited knowledge of mental health are behind the curve of getting help while also having to prove ourselves not only physically but mentally,” Alphonso Nathan states.
Nathan is a licensed professional counselor with more than a decade of experience. He often spotlights trauma surrounding Black men.
Nathan is a child of Liberian immigrants who fled a civil war and moved to New York in search of the American dream. Instead of safety, security and fulfilled dreams of white picket fences, Nathan’s family found neighborhoods wrought with economic instability and negative influences for young men.
Even as a pre-teen, Nathan was aware of the world around him and his uphill battle to success. Nathan watched as those around him dropped out of school, sold drugs, got in trouble with the law or landed their lives on various plateaus of unsuccess. He knew that his best shot at success would be a new environment.
In 7th grade Nathan decided to leave his family in New York and further his education at the Milton Hershey private board school. Nathan understood that his youth made him more resilient and took advantage of it. He also saw that his current home didn't have the resources to mold him into the man he wanted to be.
“None of us can get to where we want by ourselves,” says Nathan.
“The biggest misconception is that we can do it all on our own and that can be the downfall of so many.. People can be too proud to ask for help when they’re struggling..”
While in school, Nathan became more aware of his own mental health, his emotions, his taumas and how that impacted his day to day.
“It wasn’t until later on that I was diagnosed with ADHD,” said Nathan. “ If I had known that earlier there could’ve been less struggles for me.”
His story is just one of many happening to Black youth all around the world. Black people have historically been negatively affected by prejudice and discrimination in the health care system. Unfortunately, many Black people still have these negative experiences when they attempt to seek treatment for major conditions as severe as cancer. Mental health conditions like ADHD are at times more difficult to detect, often being overlooked in the Black community. In addition to that, Nathan believes Black men are conditioned to suppress mental and emotional imbalances.
“We’ve been conditioned to not show emotion from when we were an enslaved people,” says Nathan. “You had to be strong, you couldn’t show weakness.”
Nathan says that constant trauma conditioned slaves to develop skin thick enough to deal with some of the most egregious conditions in human history. Now, Black men must adapt to the traumas of today. Black men are now charged with stripping down the same tough skin that slavery hardened.
“That’s how we survived back then by keeping things a secret,” says Nathan. “That’s how we rode the Underground Railroad to freedom. Those traditions of silence and stoicism have now become a generational curse. Don’t tell anybody your problems, sweep it under the rug. If a family member touches you, sweep it under the rug.”
Nathan says that Black men are walking trauma. At one point, that was the recipe for self preservation, but as we grow as a society, those same learned behaviors have stunted our growth. Still, Nathan uses his own mental health journey as a beacon of hope for those struggling around him. He says one quote helps keep him motivated to help others.
“A smart man learns from his own mistakes but a wise man learns from the mistakes of others.”
Nathan sees the mental health struggles of Black men as cyclical, but something that can be changed one mind at a time. He believes that one way to combat the stigma around addressing men’s mental health is to view it the same way we view physical health. Any given day, you can scroll up and down your instagram timeline and see health and wellness influencers pushing you to try a new workout or diet in an attempt to improve your physical health. And just like sleep, diet and exercise are pillars of a healthy body, Nathan is providing keys to having a healthy mind as well.
1. “The same way you do a physical diet, you can do a mental diet.”
Nathan says we should all be watching what we put into our mind the same way we watch what goes into our body. Are we spending too much time on social media? Are we soaking up negativity? Are we letting that bring us down? Too much of a negative outside influence can add weight to our mind in the form of unwanted stress, baggage and anxiety.
2. “Make sure you make time for prayer and meditation.”
Nathan is a firm believer in the importance of prayer and meditation as anchors. If you’re religious, prayer always works, however, both prayer and meditation help bring you back to “the here and now”.
“Most times we find ourselves living in the future,” said Nathan.
“That’s where anxiety is. Living in the past is where we find depression.”
Nathan defines mindfulness as being able to live in the present. Focusing on mindfulness is the best way to make sure we’re not missing the daily beauties of life.
3. “Monitor your energy. We only have a certain amount of energy in our bodies. It’s our job to put energy into things that are good investments.”
Nathan says the concept is as simple as putting good in and getting good out. “If you put your energy in your job then you get a good financial return,” said Nathan. “If you put energy into your craft, then you get a good return by sharpening that craft. Putting your energy into bad investments and unnecessary conversations bring your negative returns of potential trauma.
In addition to being the Vice President of Brightside Counseling LLC and the Co-Owner of Brightside Medical Associates, Alphonso Nathan is in the process of directing and releasing a docu series spotlighting the current mental health of the Black community called “Healing The Culture.” The goal of the series is to give viewers an inside look at a live therapy session in hopes of opening more people to the possibility of exploring their own pathway to mental health.
You can find more information on Alphonso Nathan and his upcoming docuseries on phonzthetherapist.com
Mac Johnson is a Emmy nominated documentarian, award winning television producer and writer whose sole purpose is to provide a platform for underserved communities. He is a proud HBCU graduate, having studied communications at Alabama Agricultural & Mechanical University. Mac is also an active member of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists and looks for community outreach and volunteering opportunities in his spare time. He is a die hard Eagles fan, vegan food connoisseur and a lover of all things hip-hop, gospel and jazz.
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