By Talik Monroe
I experienced severe trauma as a child — trauma that I struggle with to this day. I wear the scars of my past; from being sexually abused as a child by two of my male cousins, to growing up with parents who battled drug addiction, to being physically abused for minor infractions. My grandmother eventually became my legal guardian and raised me. Having gone through so much as a child, I started to feel like I had nowhere to turn and no one to share my struggles with. This isolation was compounded by the stigma surrounding mental illness and shame surrounding sexual abuse — particularly within my community.
After I began attending church frequently, I realized I needed to face the manifestations of my trauma head on. I noticed that I had trouble cultivating friendships with — or even being around — other males. Wanting to make positive strides in this area of my life, and help others to do the same, I became involved with NAMI Bucks County at the suggestion of a friend. In January 2022, I started facilitating a group called Black Minds Matter, a group composed of people of color who struggle with mental health issues. Leading a mental health support group was an entirely new experience for me, but one that I have thoroughly enjoyed and cherished.
While leading Black Minds Matter and other support groups through NAMI, I realized I wanted to share my experience and be a voice for other men who are scared to speak up and are suffering in silence. I wanted to let them know that, despite the messages we’d been bombarded with in our communities about masculinity, it is ok to not be ok. I created my own podcast called “Mental Health Check In With Talik,” which is currently in its third season.
The show has had guests from a variety of reality television shows, such as Big Brother, Love Island, The Circle, The Mole, Love is Blind, The Challenge and Survivor, to name a few. I also speak with mental health professionals, spiritual leaders and my friends and family. All guests share vulnerable, real insight into their mental health struggles and provide tips and advice that has worked for them.
As a support group leader and podcast host, I know firsthand that discussing mental health challenges and struggles with friends, family, group members or even a podcast audience is no small task. Here are five tips I have found helpful in engaging my community on mental health.
Simply put, getting into the community is the first step. This requires searching for like-minded people who can support you as you work through your own mental health challenges and stand with you as you advance the mental health conversation. I am thankful to have cultivated strong friendships with men who have graciously supported and encouraged me, even as I struggled on my own mental health journey. There were times when I projected my anger and frustration onto them in our discussions, phone calls and hangouts. However, these friends, at the end of the day, had my back and created a safe space to openly discuss our struggles, anxieties and battles.*
We cannot expect others to be vulnerable and open about their mental health if we aren’t willing to do the same. In my support groups and on my podcast, I try to create a welcoming environment and share my own struggles. This normalizes my lived experience (and likely, the lived experience of others) and sets the groundwork for others to open up about their mental health journeys. I have found that being authentic and vulnerable allows my group members and guests alike feel welcomed and reassured. They know they will not be judged for their struggles, and that they are not alone. On my podcast, I always ask guests if it was “ok to not be ok” in their homes growing up. In each episode, I answer the question, too.
Mental health discussions often hit roadblocks. In the context of my community of Black men, this often manifests as an unwillingness to share lived experience openly — an understandable reaction to the stigma surrounding mental illness and the cultural expectations of masculinity dictating that men be “strong” and invulnerable. It’s important to be knowledgeable of these issues and to find ways to combat them. Encourage folks in your community who might be struggling with these issues to seek professional guidance, such as therapy, or even non-professional spaces to connect, such as mental health Facebook groups. This can nudge people toward openness, education and support.
Intentional communication is a key part of community involvement. This can be effective even in casual, informal settings. For folks battling mental health struggles, a simple text or invitation to hang out, grab coffee, lunch or spend time together, could make a world of difference. Intentional communication requires effort, but the reward is worth it. You can grow your support system, deepen friendships and encourage the people around you who are battling similar issues.
Sometimes we might have a tough time articulating what we are struggling with. Writing down my struggles, battles and journey was a freeing experience — and, in turn, has helped others in my circle identify their challenges as well. In 2021, I authored and self-published a book titled “Trauma to Triumph.” What started out as a method of expression became a published book that can help others who might be struggling. Telling your story can empower others to seek help, to never give up and know that their own recovery journey is within reach.
Mental health is a tough subject. For Black men, in particular, it is fraught with stigma and a resulting fear of being ridiculed if we open up emotionally. This can lead to isolation and only perpetuates a person’s struggles. Combatting this isolation is a complex process, but it is achievable with the right community conversation and support. We have the power to connect with our friends, families and other people in our day-to-day lives and validate each other’s experiences. If people know that their voices are heard, they are not alone, they are supported, they matter and they are loved, we will have a solid foundation to changing the mental health landscape.
Talik Monroe is a group co-facilitator for Black Minds Matter, peer support groups and men’s support group at NAMI Bucks County. After experiencing childhood trauma and grief, he uses his experience to start conversations about the intersection of mental health, race, gender and identity. He is also a self-published author.
*Note: I’d like to thank the specific people that have supported me, including: Clarkson Payne Caleb Hoover, Zeke Landes, Nicholas Emeigh, Brian Thomas, Ronald Mccray, Mario Furlow, Zak Renzetti-Volt, Chris Spurlock, Timothy Ernay, Brandon Nelson, Britney Waters, Kassy Udenze, Nicole Lerro, Oliva Silva, Q Johnson, my NAMI Bucks County family and my Black Minds Matters family.
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