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ICYMI: Congresswoman Frederica Wilson Hosts Hearing Style Briefing on the Mental Health and Suicide of Black Men and Boys with Top Mental Health Leaders

On May 1st, in recognition of Mental Health Awareness MonthCongresswoman Frederica S. Wilson (FL-24), Chair of the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys, hosted a briefing titled "Mayday: Suicide and the Mental Health of Black Men and Boys.”

The briefing brought together esteemed panelists, including five CEOs leading the largest mental health organizations in the country, Shawn Boynes, CEO of the American Counseling Association, Dr. Arthur Evans, CEO for the American Psychological Association, Dr. Georges Benjamin, Executive Director of American Public Health Association, Dr. Anthony Estreet, CEO for National Association of Social Workers, and Daniel Gillison Jr., CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The panelists also included influential celebrities like Marcus Smith, Former NFL Eagles Linebacker, and Raheem Devaughn, Grammy Nominated Recording Artist.

Congresswoman Wilson was joined by U.S. Senator Laphonza Butler, Congressman Troy Carter, Co-Host of the Event, Congressman Steven Horsford, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congresswoman Lucy McBath, Congressman Hank Johnson, and Congressman Danny Davis.

Congresswoman Frederica Wilson said, “Usually, when I am talking about prevention, I am talking about ending the school-to-prison pipeline or stopping mass incarceration. But at this hearing, I turned my attention to another important topic: addressing the mental health crisis in our nation and preventing suicides in our nation. Historically, suicide has not been viewed as a problem specific to the Black community, so Black men are still suffering in silence and Black boys are dying. On top of this, May is Mental Health Awareness month, and I see no more important issue to the Commission than the mental health of Black men and boys.”

Senator Laphonza Butler said, “Every single conversation I have had on the subject of mental health has emerged and embraced the celebration of this generation being willing to talk openly and ask for help.”

Only 1 in 3 Black adults with a mental health condition receives treatment. Sixty percent of Black adolescents who had a major depressive episode in the last year did not get mental health treatment – a far higher rate than White children.

“Let's normalize and let kids know that is okay to not be okay. We ask kids about their homework, but we don't ask kids about their mental health anymore. We have to get back to that,” Congressman Troy Carter said.  

12% of Black adolescents had thoughts of suicide; 7.5% made a suicide plan, and nearly 5% attempted suicide. Rates of suicide deaths among Black men have increased by 25% over the last two decades.

“As the Congressional Black Caucus, not only are we working to try to improve access to mental wellness and health, we are also working to improve the economic condition of the Black community in every respect,” Congressman Steven Horsford said, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. When we improve the economic conditions of Black Americans, we actually improve their health outcomes and save Black lives."

Congresswoman Lucy McBath said, “Mental health is just as important as physical health, and we must invest in it."

“I am a psychologist by training, so this issue is a major [issue] and I’ve always maintained that we’ve never spent so much attention, and we’ve never put much resources to it,” Congressman Danny Davis said in reference to mental health.

Congressman Hank Johnson said to the students in the crowd, “I know that you all have a future, and you will one day make your parents proud. There is nothing better than getting involved in things for the greater good.”

Marcus Smith, former NFL Eagles Linebacker, said, “Mental Health is a journey; it is a portion of who we are, and we have to speak." 

Raheem Devaughn, a Grammy Nominated Recording Artistsaid, “Mental health doesn’t just affect the individual; it affects the family members as well. Everybody should have a therapist. Everyone should have a safe space to go to be able to talk.”

“We need to help young men understand that it is okay to ask for help,” said Shawn Boynes, CEO of the American Counseling Association.

Dr. Arthur Evans, CEO of the American Psychological Association, said, “We must speak up, engage, and be active in the community. When people need help, we have to innovate in terms of how we address these issues.”

“As a collective, it is important for young people to know you are not alone. We are a very cosmetic society. We judge a book by its cover, and we got to get into the table of contents and the chapters of a person. We have to take a look at what we can do in terms of moving the stand of judgment when we first see someone,” said Daniel Gillison, CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“When someone in our community gets injured by a firearm, the whole community suffers. And we don’t recognize or acknowledge the trauma that occurs that impacts mental health of the community,” said Dr. George Benjamin, Executive Director of American Public Health Association.

“When it comes to attracting Black men to the mental health workforce, particularly in social work, we must start when they are younger so that when they get to undergrad they know what they want to do,” said Dr. Anthony Estreet, CEO of National Association of Social Workers.

This hearing was supported by The Sonrise Project, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that provides a safe space for Black families facing mental health challenges.

The full livestream of the event can be found here.