February is Black History Month, and legendary rapper Jay-Z has emerged as a hero to African-American communities struggling with the intergenerational trauma of racism and inequality. Jay-Z has taken on mental health stigma publicly and stepping up to be a role model for millions of men of color. In a recent interview with Van Jones on CNN, he spoke out in favor of therapy and breaking down the barriers to help-seeking in the African-American community.

“Mental health, PTSD, and trauma is so rampant in our community,” Jones said during the interview, joking that “as scared as Black folks are of the cops, we’re even more scared of therapists.”

“Yeah, it’s a stigma,” Jay-Z answered, noting, “As you grow, you realize the ridiculousness of the stigma attached to it. Like, what? You just talk to someone about your problems.”

Jay-Z talked about how critical it is for therapy to be made available in schools, especially for teens, who he said often “don’t have the language to navigate” common problems such drinking, social anxiety, and bullying.

Research from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) found that African-Americans are 20% more likely to experience mental health challenges than whites, but only about 25% of African-Americans seek mental health care, compared to 40% of white people. And according to a 2013 study of African-American men and women’s attitudes towards mental health, African-American men, in particular, were more concerned with the stigma.

There are also socio-economic and racial realities impacting African-Americans’ access to and engagement in care. These include significant disparities where fewer mental health services are available in black communities, which makes it less likely that they will receive treatment. Additionally, according to data from the American Psychological Association, the vast majority of therapists in the U.S. are white. In 2013 (the most recent year available) only 5.3 percent of therapists were black. While it’s not necessary for people to see only therapists who look exactly like them, there is something very different about seeing a therapist or a peer who knows firsthand what it’s like to be black in America today.

We applaud Jay-Z for sharing such positive messages that will go a long way to break down stigma and encourage help-seeking, especially for men of color.

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