Conversations with Millennial Men of Color: Accessing Behavioral Health

October 23, 2019

On October 15, 2019, New England MHTTC co-sponsored an open forum hosted by UMass Boston entitled “Conversations with Millennial Men of Color: Accessing Behavioral Health.” The event was conceptualized by Tony Martin, who is a graduate researcher at the William Joiner Institute for the Study of War and Social Consequences, UMass Boston.


“The forum focused on exploring ways of connecting young men of color with mental health services,” says Mr. Martin. Mr. Martin mentors young Black men to help them graduate from university. In his work and from his own experience, he sees the challenges so often faced by people of color in accessing the resources that they need to succeed, not only in academia, but in life. He hoped that the forum would explore ways of making the behavioral health care system more user-friendly.


Chyrell Bellamy, PhD, MSW, associate professor of Yale School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry, facilitated two panel discussions, which included black and brown men talking about their experiences with mental health services. “The forum provided an opportunity for men of color to articulate their thoughts and feelings and have their voices heard,” says Mr. Martin. Participants acknowledged that mental health conditions were often stigmatized within the community, which in turn discouraged open discussions in the home. Dr. Bellamy emphasized that changing the discourse starts with sharing one’s story and the importance of discussing resilience after trauma.


One barrier to care is the lack of awareness of available resources. “People of color simply don’t know about the opportunities to get help,” he says. “Blacks are treated differently. We grow up poor in bad situations and suffer abuse, but if we act out in response, we end up in jail. We need help, but we are expected to soldier on as though those things did not happen to us.”  The forum provided an opportunity for service providers to consider how to educate people of color about the available mental health services in their community.


During the forum, people mentioned a few UMass Boston resources, including the William Monroe Trotter Institute, and the Mauricio Gastón Institute, as well as various student clubs. However, participants recognized that people of color are currently navigating in systems that weren’t built for them to succeed. A community committed to diversity, inclusion, and equity is essential for encouraging individuals to seek out support.


“So many Blacks simply do not seek help,” Mr. Martin observes. “They are focused on survival and meeting basic needs: food, shelter, safety, and taking care of themselves. We aren’t necessarily concerned with the higher needs of self-fulfillment on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.” As a military veteran who experiences post-traumatic stress, Mr. Martin says that counseling services and having a peer mentor made a huge difference for him. This increased self-awareness prompted him to work to ensure that others get the help they need. “There is a Chinese proverb, A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step,” says Mr. Martin, “and I see this forum as being a first step in recognizing and talking about the problem.”


For more information about the forum on men of color and behavioral health, contact Tony Martin at [email protected].

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