How Hip Hop's Relationship With Mental Health Is Changing

By Victoria Kim 07/17/19

Kid Cudi, Big Sean and Jay-Z are just a few of the hip-hop artists who are helping to break mental health stigma by being open about therapy, depression and anxiety. 

Jay-Z is one of the hip=hop artists that has been open about mental health

Speaking about mental health, substance abuse and suicide may have been taboo in the past, especially in hip hop and communities of color. But growing discussion, acceptance and understanding of these important issues today are encouraging young people of color to seek help for problems they otherwise would have swept under the rug.

Generally, people of color are discouraged to speak up about such issues. As Van Jones said in a conversation with rapper and business mogul Jay-Z last year, the stigma around mental health is ingrained in the African American community.

“You know, mental health, trauma, PTSD is so rampant in our community. As scared as black folks are of the cops, we are more scared of therapists. We are not trying to go to therapy,” Jones said.

Jay-Z (born Shawn Carter), who does not hide the fact that he sees a therapist, shared, “As you grow, you realize the ridiculousness of the stigma attached to it. You just talk to someone about your problems, you know.”

He expanded that therapy could benefit children who would otherwise struggle to process certain experiences and emotions. “I think actually it should be in our schools,” said Carter. “Children have the most going on, their minds aren’t fully developed… You don’t have the language to navigate it.”

Starting The Conversation

A new feature in High Snobiety illustrates how hip hop’s relationship with mental health awareness has evolved over the years. While the genre has long favored more aggressively masculine personalities, modern artists like Diddy, Big Sean, Kanye West, Kid Cudi, Timbaland and Fat Joe have shared their personal battles with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, grief and trauma—pushing the conversation further.

“I have noticed a shift, in that a lot more people of color seek psychotherapy than in the past and their decisions are far less motivated by a current crisis. A great number of the cases I received were from people who became aware of the role of their own mental health in the struggle for racial equality,” said Eben Louw, a therapist from Berlin specializing in black/ethnic minority clients.

“Empowerment programs and anti-discrimination awareness events have also sensitized people of color to their basic human rights, which includes the right to health. This made some of my clients more aware that they are entitled to mental health and a better quality of life.”

“I think we’ve come a long way,” said Daphne C. Watkins, PhD, a professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Michigan and founder and director of The YBMen Project. “We’re finally at a place in society where not only are black men talking more about their deepest, darkest, emotional thoughts and feelings but we as a society are more open to hearing what they have to say.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr