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kofi siriboe addresses mental health in the black community


The recent suicides of high-profile celebrities like designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef and writer Anthony Bourdain have highlighted the need for normalized conversations about mental health. Many have taken to social media to express their own struggles as well as crisis counseling hotlines and words of hope and support for those who may be suffering. In the past few years alone, celebrities such as Mariah Carey have opened up about being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, as well as Jenifer Lewis of Black-ish who has been very vocal about how she lives with bipolar disorder which she was diagnosed with in 1990, and recently, confirming many fans’ suspicions from his behavior over the years, rapper Kanye West reveals that he struggles with a bipolar diagnosis as well.

With mental health issues appearing to be a common occurrence for many people, it doesn’t make sense that honest conversations about the topic aren’t happening in public spaces more often. Queen Sugar actor Kofi Siriboe is hoping to change that. Siriboe recently partnered with HuffPost for a project that will be released exclusively to the site that will tackle the stigma associated with mental health, particularly in the African-American community. The 24-year-old says that historically conversations regarding mental health haven’t been encouraged in the black community and furthermore have been shamed:

“I feel like with mental health, people always react negatively. We kinda have a lot of stigma in our community and in society in general.”

“I feel like that space wasn’t really created for us.”

The project, titled “WTF Is Mental Health?” is one of Siriboe’s first attempts at production. According to HuffPost, the short-film will explore mental health around young people of color. The mini-documentary will follow seven young people as they share the stigma and challenges they faced throughout dealing with their personal mental health issues.

Siriboe shares the film is actually a continuation of another project he completed after his own life was touched by suicide:

“It’s the companion piece to ‘Jump,’ a short film I made after a mentor and big brother figure died by suicide, just before I got the call that I’d been cast in ‘Queen Sugar.’ I started working on this beautiful, emotional show and felt how liberating it was to channel my fears into art. As I began to mold ‘Jump,’ I realized the true conversation I was craving centered on young black people who are figuring out this mental health thing, too.”

Siriboe says he wanted to make a film that speaks specifically in a language that black youth can relate to, noting that often young people are experiencing feelings and emotions they have no context for making them less likely to seek help or assuming they’re the only ones dealing with these issues:

“Everybody doesn’t have that language and doesn’t understand that there is a community or world out there of people who are dealing with similar things, so I really want to explore what it is and what it means to us.”

“A lot of our project is just asking questions, and I think with the questions they’re able to give us answers and able to define these definitions for ourself rather than what we’re accustomed to being told.”

Siriboe shares at one point in his career when he felt his dreams were finally coming true, there was a feeling of “unhappiness” he couldn’t shake, but had no idea of what to label his feelings. He now believes he was struggling with anxiety:

“I didn’t really have the language, but I think it’s a mixture of anxiety, it’s a mixture of depression, it’s a mixture of general unease. Also sometimes, it’s just feeling isolated.”

Siriboe says that for his battles, it helped to have a creative outlet and somewhere to channel his negative energy, a privilege that isn’t always an option for black youth:

“I get to express, but what about those people who don’t have that opportunity, they’re bottling up all this emotion and being told it’s not real then we wanna talk about mental health after there’s a reaction to what’s been bottled up … and it’s not gonna stop. It’s only gonna keep getting worse.”

“It creates a system that disconnects a person, disconnects a community and we’re weak that way. It creates a vulnerability that isn’t strength. It’s not chosen. We should be vulnerable by choice cause that’s all we can be. We have to acknowledge what it is and accept it.”

Siriboe invites other black youth to open up about their struggles in the film in hopes that as a community, we can begin to have conversations that will heal and allow us to accept that mental health is a priority that needs care and attention just like cancer, MS or any other illness:

“If we don’t admit what’s going on to ourselves, we’re gonna keep hurting in silence, which is killing us twice as much as our Caucasian counterparts. No one is gonna talk about it because it’s taboo.”

“That’s what I wanna end.”

You can check out “WTF Is Mental Health?” below:


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