Mental Health and Gay Men at HBCUs

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Jalynn M. Stubbs

 

Depression is a “silent killer” of African American men, similar to hypertension. For homosexual and bisexual Black men, personal experiences with  stigma, homophobia, and discrimination related to one’s race and sexual orientation has been directly related to poorer mental health outcomes, including low self-esteem, increased chances of depression and anxiety, suicidal ideation, and maladaptive coping strategies including substance abuse and engaging in fewer health-seeking behaviors (Deasy, et. al., 2014). I have seen firsthand how one’s sexual orientation can impact their mental health and overall wellbeing. Many of my close friends identify as homosexual men and I see the adversities that they are faced with on a daily basis. As a result of these adversities, some men are anxious about sharing their problems because their sexuality is already viewed as an issue. This, in turn, has a negative effect on their mental health and can deter them from seeking help from others. I conducted a study on the intersectionality among African American gay males and how this affects their attitudes towards mental illness, their willingness to seek help from mental health professionals or others, and also their different coping strategies. With this study, I hoped to explore the intersectional identity of African American gay men in emerging adulthood at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). I conducted eight in-depth interviews to gain detailed information about the experiences that currently impact their mental health and help-seeking behaviors. 

Many challenges arise with being an African American gay male. The participants in this study admitted to dealing with many stressful experiences (school, trauma, jobs, etc.) The participants had various coping strategies to overcome their stressful situations such as praying, self-care, listening to music, talking to family/friends, etc. Many of the participants shared that their current strategies are very effective. Each participant believed that mental health care is very important within the African American and gay community but fear mental health professionals don’t quite understand the issues related to their salient intersecting identities. I conducted this study on this particular group because this is a population whose voices are not heard often. Studying the intersectionality of these men allowed me to hear how they feel about reaching out to therapists, and it was not a surprise that some of the men shared that they would prefer to express themselves and reveal their personal issues with their family members and close friends, instead of a therapist or counselor. Although they all agreed that a therapist is an ideal person to seek help from, these professionals do not often tailor their practices/techniques to better understand the needs of Black homosexual men which significantly discourages them from seeking help. Contrary to the articles discussing the exclusive environment of HBCUs in not fully accommodating LGBTQ students, these participants shared being students at an HBCU provided them with a community that uplifts them rather than criticizes their identity. These men feel more at home and have found friends and even faculty members to relate to. Many talked about having a different level of comfort when talking to those who looked like them and for many, they felt this level of comfort at their HBCU. 

Even though I am not an African American gay male, I know what it’s like to be hesitant about seeking help from mental health professionals, especially those professionals that do not look like me. It can be difficult for a professional to show empathy when they do not fully understand another individual’s background. Black people are all different, but many of us deal with similar struggles every single day. Our issues and problems are often treated as less than, even our mental health. Attending an HBCU for the past three years has given me the courage to speak out on topics concerning mental health, mental health for all identities. HBCUs are putting forth efforts to provide assistance to those dealing with mental health issues, but there is always more to be done and more strategies to be implemented to make seeking help a more comfortable process for LGBTQ students. My hope is that my study shines a light on the needs of African American gay men and the Black community, in general, when it comes to seeking mental health assistance in the future. Our mental health matters and it should be taken seriously and handled with the utmost care.

Jalynn M. Stubbs is a rising senior at Clark Atlanta University where she studies psychology. She chose to attend Clark Atlanta University because it felt like home, a place where she wouldn’t be just a seat filler in the classroom. Her professors and advisors provide endless support and opportunities for Jalynn to grow and develop her career. She is forever grateful to her research advisor for assisting her with this study. “AA Gay Men vs. The World of Mental Health” received 4th place at the 4th Annual Research Symposium at Clark Atlanta University and “Honorable Mention” at the 2019 AUC Psychology Research Day. 

Jalynn was born and raised in Chicago, IL where she attended Lindblom Math & Science Academy High School. There, she was a member of the student government, concert band as well as the softball team.

Recently, Jalynn had the opportunity to conduct research in Accra, Ghana. She plans to develop and present her research during her last year as an undergraduate student. Jalynn is currently a member of the Isabella T. Jenkins Honors Program, where she serves as President for the 2019-2020 school year. She was also inducted as a member in Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, Psi Chi International Honor Society, and Sigma Alpha Pi National Leadership Society. Jalynn is also an Ambassador for BeWOKE, a campaign launched by the nonprofit program Save A Girl, Save A World.