Brothers Thrive initiative targets Black men for mental health services

New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray is expanding her platform of mental health awareness to target Black men.

McCray was joined by members of the five national Black fraternities and other Black male focused organizations Monday to launch Brothers Thrive, a volunteer effort led by Black men to promote mental health literacy in their communities. Brothers Thrive is part of McCray’s mental health initiative ThriveNYC, launched two years ago to address mental illness and substance misuse.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, several factors play a role in Black men not seeking mental health services, including cultural biases and access to health care services. An estimated one-quarter of African-Americans seek mental health care compared with 40 percent of white Americans.

The Center for Disease Control reported in 2017 that suicide is the third leading cause of death for Blacks ages 15 to 24 and that suicide rates for Black boys age 5 to 11 have doubled over the past 20 years. Two-thirds of people who commit suicide were battling depression.

Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc., and 100 Black Men are all involved in the effort. Many of the organizations already have mental health initiatives.

Men who want to be involved will undergo an eight-hour Mental Health First Aid course on various areas of mental health and must pass a test. Upon passing, they will receive a certification good for three years. The course teaches listening without judgment, responding appropriately when someone is acting erratically, safety and getting access to care.

“We want communities to be ambassadors to their own,” McCray said. “We know that we will have a deeper reach and connection with people that way. Brothers Thrive is another step to helping us reach those who need it help by partnering with organizations that, in many cases, are already doing the work.”

Deputy Mayor Phil Thompson, who will head the initiative, said that mental health is not a one-size-fits-all concept and that Black men have historically faced racial challenges that can affect mental health.

“We know that in our community there are special challenges,” he said. “We have young people who are over policed who sometimes develop anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Young men are socialized in an environment where being strong is a true necessity, but masculine strength is often taught that you are going to go it alone.”

Several Black male elected officials were on hand at the launch to show their support for the initiative, many who are members of the fraternities involved.

Brooklyn City Council Member Robert Cornegy, a member of Omega Psi Phi, said eliminating the shame some Black men have about seeking mental health services is the first step.

“Ending the stigma of mental illness and educating more people about mental illness is critical to successfully addressing the dire need for mental health care, especially in our city’s Black and Brown communities,” he said.

A member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Bronx Assemblyman Michael Blake said Brothers Thrive can target a population that is often missed during the discussion about mental health.

“Stigma can regularly be the reason for men of color not addressing mental health concerns not getting help,” he said. However, through leadership, encouragement, awareness and support, we are breaking past any barriers to be healed.”