Jay-Z & Mental Health: Stigma, Race & Awareness
When I think of Jay-Z, a few things pop up into my head:
- Beyoncé’s husband.
- Blue Ivey’s dad.
- Big Pimpin.
Beyond those three things, Jay-Z has a few accolades of his own. He is rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer, entrepreneur, investor, and businessman. He is one of the best-selling musicians of all time, having sold more than 100 million records while receiving 21 Grammy Awards for his music. MTV ranked him the “Greatest MC of all time” in 2006. Rolling Stone ranked three of his albums—Reasonable Doubt (1996), The Blueprint (2001), and The Black Album (2003)—among The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In 2017, Forbes estimated his net worth at $810 million, making him the second-richest hip hop artist in the U.S. Jay-Z obviously has had an incredible amount of success and notable failures.
Jay-Z has undergone a major transition in the eyes of the public. From being a highly-respected artist to someone heavily under fire in the limelight during the Becky/Lemonade scandal, the public’s view of him has shifted. This type of negative attention has the possibility of impacting his mental health. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “Well, he must be crazy since he cheated on Beyoncé.” (Which I mean….It’s Beyoncé. How could you?! Beside the point though!)
Mental Health champion is not something that I would associate him with, but my recent view of Jay-Z and mental health has changed.
His most recent album is titled 4:44, which includes a mini-documentary called “Footnotes for MaNyfaCedGod” in it, which not only addresses masculinity in the Black culture but brings up some much-needed conversations about African-American mental health (in particular in males) and the stigmas associated. In a track called Smile, he references talking to his therapist with the lyrics, “My therapist said I relapsed.”
When I was in graduate school, I was constantly bombarded with questions of why would I choose mental health. Our community (the black community) commonly sees mental health issues as signs of being weak or unable to handle life. According to Monica T. Williams, Ph.D., African Americans share the same mental health issues as the rest of the population, with arguably even greater stressors due to racism, prejudice, and economic disparities. Based on that statement, mental health awareness and African-Americans should go hand in hand, however, that is not the case. There are several stigmas and negative connotations associated with therapy, not even including cost of treatment. While financial hindrance isn’t the only roadblock for African-Americans seeking help, those who do not see the need for help are more reluctant to invest in their mental health. This leads to some tough choices; you’re either going to be judged and perceived as “weak” and “crazy,” or have concerns regarding cost or therapy efficacy.
Mental health stigma is not the only thing plaguing people of color. Disparities in access to care and treatment for mental illnesses have also persisted over time.
- While implementation of the Affordable Care Act has helped to close the gap in uninsured individuals, 15.9 percent of Black/African Americans, versus 11.1 percent of whites Americans were still uninsured in 2014. 
- In 2012, the percentage of people who were unable to get or delayed in getting needed medical care, or prescription medicines was significantly higher for people with no health insurance (18.7%) than for people with private insurance (8.4%). 
- In 2011, 54.3 percent of adult Black/African Americans with a major depressive episode received treatment, compared with 73.1 percent of adult white Americans. 
- Compared to 45.3 percent of white Americans, 40.6 percent of Black/African Americans age 12 and over were treated for substance abuse and completed their treatment course, in 2010. 
Jay-Z is not the first African American celebrity to bring light to mental health issues within the culture. Kanye West, Drake and Lil Wayne, to name a few, have made statements or comments in the lyrics addressing it. Shrink Tank has addressed this topic in the past as well. One of our contributors, Jonathan Hetterly, talked about Kid Cudi regarding depression. You can read the article here.
But what I like about Jay-Z versus the others is the fact that he is having an open conversation about it. Jay-Z apparently wants to lift the stigma and start a dialogue among the community and is using his platform to do so. Others use their platform as well, showcasing these mental health struggles featured in their lyrics:
“I am a prisoner, locked up behind Xanax bars… I feel like buying. And if my dealer don’t have no more, then I feel like dying.” – Lil Wayne
“You ain’t never seen nothing crazier than this n**** when he off his Lexapro. Remember that last time…” -Kanye West
“Somewhere between psychotic and iconic.” -Drake
It can be concluded that statistically speaking, the numbers are against us. We need to go to seek therapeutic intervention more than any other minority group in the U.S. but access to care and insurance coverage disparities show that this is NOT the case.
Prevalence of Psychological Issues
The numbers don’t lie. The following are statistics showcasing the prevalence of psychological issues for African Americans. According to the U.S. H.H.S Office of Minority Health:
- Adult Black/African Americans are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than adult whites.
- Adult Black/African Americans living below poverty are three times more likely to report serious psychological distress than those living above the poverty line.
- Adult Black/African Americans are more likely to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness than are adult whites.
- And while Black/African Americans are less likely than white people to die from suicide as teenagers, Black/African Americans teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide than are white teenagers (8.3 percent v. 6.2 percent).
- Black/African Americans of all ages are more likely to be victims of serious violent crime than are non-Hispanic whites, making them more likely to meet the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Black/African Americans are also twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to be diagnosed with schizophrenia. 
- Black/African Americans today are over-represented in our jails and prisons. People of color account for 60 percent of the prison population. Black/African Americans also account for 37 percent of drug arrests, but only 14 percent of regular drug users (illicit drug use is frequently associated with self-medication among people with mental illnesses). 
- Because less than 2 percent of American Psychological Association members are Black/African American, some may worry that mental health care practitioners are not culturally competent enough to treat their specific issues.  This is compounded by the fact that some Black/African American patients have reported experiencing racism and microaggression from therapists. 
- Stigma and judgment prevent Black/African Americans from seeking treatment for their mental illnesses. Research indicates that Black/African Americans believe that mild depression or anxiety would be considered “crazy” in their social circles. Furthermore, many believe that discussions about mental illness would not be appropriate even among family. 
In the mini documentary on Tidal, he has a candid conversation with a couple of Black male celebrities to talk about the negative stereotypes associated with getting psychological help. Among the conversation was Chris Rock, Jesse Williams, and Anthony Anderson.
“We can’t go to get therapists,” “You crazy at that point. It’s like, ‘A psychiatrist? You crazy.’”
“Three of your brothers are dead, and your mother used to beat you. You need help. Someone needs to talk you through why you’re feeling these feelings.”
While progress might be slow, it is moving forward. With more African American celebrities speaking openly about mental health it is opening a door that may have otherwise stayed closed.
Attitude on Seeking Mental Health Services
African Americans have a shaped perception on those who seek out mental health services. According to a study conducted by Ward, Wiltshire, Detry, and Brown in 2013:
- Black/African Americans hold beliefs related to stigma, psychological openness, and help-seeking, which in turn affects their coping behaviors. Generally speaking, the participants in this study were not very open to acknowledging psychological problems, but they were somewhat open to seeking mental health services.
- Black/African Americans men are particularly concerned about stigma.
- Cohort effects, exposure to mental illness, and increased knowledge of mental illness are factors which could potentially change beliefs about symptoms of mental illness.
- Participants appeared apprehensive about seeking professional help for mental health issues, which is consistent with previous research. However, participants were willing to seek out some form of help.
I commend Jay-Z for creating a path towards having an open conversation. There is strength in confronting these stigmas surrounding masculinity and the importance of mental health for overall well-being for people of all colors. He is bringing consciousness to mental health awareness. Jay-Z shows that even though you can have wealth, fame, success, and yes, even Beyoncé, you can still be vulnerable. Way to go, Hova!