Battling the stigma of mental health issues: Men supporting men

Many in our community are not only battling the aftereffects of trauma, but they also have to push through negative stigmas of mental health problems in order to find help and healing.

Nearly all Reconciliation Services (RS) clients suffer from various combinations of mental illness, lack of education, unemployment or underemployment, homelessness, and social isolation. Anonymous self-reporting by RS clients indicates that:

  • 59 percent witnessed violence recently;
  • 53 percent are victims of violence;
  • 36 percent have been convicted of a crime;
  • 5 percent are currently in a gang;
  • 69 percent use tobacco;
  • 14 percent use illegal drugs; and
  • 6 percent feel in danger at home.

These troubling assessments and the great need for effective support and therapy made it crucial for RS to launch our SnAP (Strength eNergy And Power) women’s program in 2011 as a way to help women work through the trauma and depression that many women in our community were experiencing.

For many men we serve, the mere thought of weakness can keep them from the life-changing effects of therapy.

This one-of-a-kind program was piloted in collaboration with Jackson County Cares Mental Health Fund and is now funded by JCCMHF, the Health Forward Foundation, and Humana. It is promoted and facilitated in the context of community fellowship and encouragement through group meetings.

We refer to our SnAP program as “stealth mental health” because this group setting, although run by a clinical therapist using proven evidence-based practices and clinical measures, functions as the “camouflage” to allow this therapy to fly under the radar of the deeply entrenched stigma of mental health in the African American community.

We witnessed again and again the success of the individual women who graduated from the SnAP group, and we were confronted with a growing awareness of the need for mental health services for men in the surrounding neighborhoods.

With each graduating class of the women’s SnAP group, we saw the men in their lives, as well as other clients and neighbors who visited in our RS Cafe, ask if there was a group available for the men. These men were bearing witness to the change and success that they were seeing in the women, and naturally wanted the opportunity for themselves!

It was in the context of this growing local awareness that it became increasingly obvious that there was a need for the SnAP program to expand its reach to the men in our area. In 2017, due to extended funding for the program, RS was able to expand the SnAP program to include a men’s support group.

As community advocates and social workers, we were aware of several key issues that warranted the development of a men’s component of SnAP. The US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health related some staggering survey data that revealed black men, more than white and Hispanic men, said they experienced feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, and that they find everything requires great emotional effort.

This data confirms what we at RS understand and witness daily. Moreover, we recognize that the root cause of these issues originates from profound trauma individuals face in the neighborhoods we serve.

For both the men and women of our community here at 31st and Troost, the impact of trauma is deeply felt, but not obvious or easily identifiable. The reason for this is largely due to the pronounced stigma of both mental health and receiving mental health services in the African American community. This stigma is made all the worse when speaking to men. The messages that men receive from their communities, often leads them to believe that seeking help for their mental health is a sign of weakness.

For many men we serve at RS, the mere thought of weakness can keep them from the life-changing effects of therapy and mental health services.

Now with our men’s SnAP program, the men of this community can lean on each other without shame and dig deep into the issues that haunt them, in order to reveal the their hidden strength.
Additional reading:

Personal testimony from women in SnAP:

One thought on “Battling the stigma of mental health issues: Men supporting men

    There are 2 fundamental issues that people seem to gloss over when they talk about lifting the stigma surrounding mental health problems: 1) the myth of confidentiality and 2) distrust in professional performance by people with problems.

    On Issue #1: healthcare providers of the world would like you to believe that your treatment records are “confidential.” But such records are often subject to scrutiny. For a doctor who wants to be licensed: the licensing board asks probing mental health questions and often will demand complete records of applicants. Or ANYONE who ever brings a personal injury lawsuit, can have their mental health history probed in discovery, including their “confidential” health records, and such info routinely becomes part of the public record of their case file.

    On issue #2, it’s easy to applaud actors, like Carrie Fisher, who was open about her health problems. But let’s be honest, the work performed by actors (or artists of any kind) doesn’t directly affect a customer’s life. But would you comfortable being operated on by a surgeon with schizophrenia? Or being represented in court by a lawyer with bi-polar disorder? Or a sky-diving instructor with severe depression? I believe most people would not be comfortable.

    Until these two very real problems associated with the diagnosis and treatment of mental health are addressed (if they even can be), I can’t imagine the stigma associated with mental health problems ever truly being lifted.

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Health Forward Foundation
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Kansas City, MO 64108
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