By Dianne Anderson
Everything going on lately is enough to make a grown man cry, which is something that Marty Sellers specifically looks for when connecting with his clients.
The chaos and confusion of the past four years have left many in the community emotionally spent, now the one year anniversary of the George Floyd murder and the recent police killing of Daunte Wright.
Sellers, a marriage and family therapist, said he’s had more referrals to Black men in the past six months than in the prior five years.
He and his peers haven’t seen anything like this before.
“I have business execs and local black police officers coming to me for therapy because in the local police department, there’s still fried chicken and watermelon jokes and they’re saying, get over it,” said Sellers, CEO of MarSell Consulting and MHS in Ontario.
Sellers, who has worked in the mental health field for over 12 years, is part of a network of Black male therapists. He is glad to see more Black men showing up for help because not talking or not crying it out only creates more stress in the body and mind.
The Black community needs healing. He’s seen grown men break down, but then apologize for being human.
“We weren’t told how to express our emotions, it’s always been taboo. We’ve been told to man up, to shut up, we’ve been told to suck it up, but we’ve never been told what it means to really be men,” he said.
One sad reality is that no matter how rich or poor, the academic status, unemployed or high ranking military, even Black police officers, all face the same threat.
Sellers said he’s also been on the side of the freeway in Orange County under police questioning of why his license said that he lived up north. He was attending UC Berkeley at the time.
“When they found out I was an educated Black man, the whole situation changed. I should never have to throw out my education [background],” he said.
On top of the daily impact of racism, the COVID-19 crisis complicates existing depression, stress, PTSD, and other mental health symptoms are magnified, he said.
Early this year, Sellers participated in the Beautiful Black Man series hosted by the African American Health Coalition and partners.
He said the hope is that Black men understand the need for a mental health safety plan. They a network of support.
“It’s okay to seek mental health services. It’s okay to say you’re not okay, and seek help. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s actually a sign of strength,” he said.
Health advocate and counselor Linda Hart said their last Beautiful Black Men event drew a lot of community attention.
This time around, they are presenting an encore of the event partnership with Riverside and San Bernardino county mental health services.
“We’re looking at doing it statewide, it’s got that much positive feedback,” said Hart, founder and CEO of the African American Health Coalition.
To help expand her impact, she and three of her outreach workers are trained and state certified COVID-19 crisis counselors to address disaster trauma relief.
Hart is one of about 100 agents participating with the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She covers the Inland Empire and Southern California and is virtually live Wednesdays through Fridays at 5-9:00 p.m. Agents are on standby to help navigate the community to local resources.
Looking out over the current mental health landscape, she senses the community is adapting, but the pandemic is not the greatest burden of stress.
Hart chokes up thinking about her grown son, even when he goes down the street to the grocery store. Like so many Black moms, she worries about his safety.
“We’ve not only been significantly impacted by COVID, but also the recent tragic shootings of Black men. In the community, the talk is that every mother is afraid that their child is going to be shot and killed,” she said.
Many moms are not letting the kids outside to play, or become anxious when their teens or young men drive to nearby places.
“They don’t know if they’re coming back,” Hart said. “Can you imagine we’re the only race most likely to feel that way? They don’t look at classism, they look of the color of the skin.”
Psychologically, she said the excessive loss is tearing up the community, and the kids.
But in dealing with trauma, just a reminder about the stages of grief and getting the community to understand mental health processes offers some comfort.
She said people are always surprised to learn they are not alone.
“They understand why they’re going through it, that it’s a natural thing that happens to everybody,” she said. “When I shared that with a friend of mine who lost a family member, I could see the relief in their face.”
For more information and the Beautiful Black Men series, see www.theaamhc.org
To connect with Sellers, see https://www.marsellconsulting.com/
To get mental health help, see https://www.namicontracosta.org/