(Todd A. Smith)

Black men, it is O.K. to admit that we are human and go through all the ups and downs that other groups go through.

Yes, we should be strong and be a rock for all our loved ones.

But to pretend that we always feel like a rock just to keep up a façade can lead to tragic consequences and unending pain to those we are trying to protect and provide for.

Stephen “tWitch” Boss, 40, a beloved dancer and former dee jay and executive producer for “The Ellen DeGeneres” recently died of suicide.

The death is especially tragic because of the joy he often displayed on television and social media.

His death has really hit home for many, even those outside of Hollywood or the Black community, because it possibly highlights how a person can look like they are joyous on the outside.

However, those “joyous” people might be fighting internal demons that no one knows about, not even those closest to them.

In a statement to People magazine, Boss’ wife Allison Holker Boss, said, “It is with the heaviest of hearts that I have to share my husband Stephen has left us. Stephen lit up every room he stepped into. He valued family, friends and community above all else and leading with love and light was everything to him. He was the backbone of our family, the best husband and father, and an inspiration to his fans.”

She continued, “To say he left a legacy would be an understatement, and his positive impact will continue to be felt. I am certain there won’t be a day that goes by that we won’t honor his memory.”

Not to sound crass or disrespectful to the Boss family during the difficult time of bereavement.

But Boss’ legacy will hopefully save lives.

His tragic death has amplified the discussion of mental health and the need for loved-ones to always check in on their people even if they seem upbeat and joyful.

There is a powerful saying that states people do not fake being depressed or down.

However, they do fake being O.K.

Therefore, it is important to just let people know that you are thinking of them and care about them even if you think everything is copasetic.

Checking in with people could save lives.

Laurie Fickman of University of Houston wrote, “Prior to the pandemic, suicide deaths were increasing dramatically for Black adults in the U.S. The rates have continued to increase during the pandemic.”

Rheeda Walker, psychology professor and director of the University of Houston’s Culture, Risk and Resilience Lab said, “Anything that is perceived as mental-health related is taboo in the Black community. To further complicate things, ‘getting help’ is seen as weakness so folks press on even when they are struggling. Doing so is part of a cultural legacy of survival in the face of brutal circumstances.”

Walker continued, “Over the last decade, suicide rates in the United States have increased dramatically among racial and ethnic minorities, and Black Americans in particular. Suicide deaths occur across the lifespan and have increased for Black youth, but the highest rate of death is among Black Americans aged 25-34 years of age.”

She said she believes the only way to stop the increased rate of suicide amongst Black Americans is to have public conversations about the subject.

The death of Boss might become the catalyst for that discussion and that change.

Boss’ apparent suicide and the uptick in suicide amongst Black men has changed the way many in the Black community look at mental health.

The days are basically gone when people laugh at you for taking a step back to protect your mental health.

Basically, gone are the days when men cannot reach out to someone for encouragement when life gets them down.

Even women who understandably want their men to be the rock of the family know that even strong rocks get withered with time.

Therefore, sometimes those rocks must get shined up so they can get back to their best.

Therefore, men please do not be afraid to be human.

Yes, we must continue to be the protectors and providers that God has called us to.

However, we are not God.

We are flesh and bone, and flesh gets old and tired as time and life takes its toll.

Therefore, it is imperative that we put ourselves first sometimes.

What I mean by that is it is hard to be there for everyone else if you are not at your best.

As a result, sometimes we must take a step back from our responsibilities and the pressures of life to make sure our physical, emotional and mental state is where it needs to be for us to be that rock that others expect us to be.

Your job is important to you and your family.

But if the job is leading you to a dark place, it is O.K. to take a much-needed vacation, sabbatical or simply look for a new job.

Your faith should be the top priority in your life.

But going to church and reading the Bible daily should not take the place of seeking professional help if needed.

When a person is in bad physical shape, they probably do not just pray away their health concerns.

They combine prayer with a changed lifestyle (i.e., diet and exercise) to alleviate or minimize those health concerns.

So, why shouldn’t we do the same for our mental and/or emotional health?

The decision to do so might be life-changing or life-altering.

Ultimately, it could preserve life and that is what we need more of in the Black community and beyond.

Todd A. Smith
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