William E. Ketchum III breaks down how Insecure managed to accurately portray the struggles that black men go through with depression.
Today, Oct. 10, marks the beginning of #WorldMentalHealthDay, an annual event that helps to destigmatize the labels that come with mental health. For me, though, every day is #WorldMentalHealthDay, as it is more than a buzzword for me — it is a reminder of a struggle I’ve dealt with for the better part of 10 years. Many people looking at me wouldn’t know that or even recognize signs of depression when they appear. This means that friends, family, co-workers and significant others are continuously oblivious to the mental illness issues that I and others experience on the daily. People who suffer this feel as alone as a leftover sock in the shadows. This issue is especially serious within the black community, as we suffer more than other groups because of racism, police brutality, wealth-and-health inequality, a white supremacist president, discrimination—whatever—you name it and it is an extreme worry to us. We are more likely to “pray it away” or hide it altogether because strength is such a large part of our ethnic identity.
Thankfully, there are musicians who lay bare their own insecurities and concerns like Danny Brown, Kid Cudi, Kanye West and others who offer a glimpse into what mental illness looks like through their songs and performances. Black TV and films are beginning to do the same, but they don’t do it quite as often. One show in particular, Insecure, has built a reputation for being a real world depiction of black life and relationships. Fans love the show on the surface because of its weekly “battle of the sexes” fodder, but beneath that are the quiet moments where Issa Rae and Jay Ellis have to face their own worries and concerns. While the worst days of my depression are behind me, the show’s arc of Lawrence (Ellis) put me right back in my parents’ basement several years ago – making it one of TV’s best portrayals of mental illness from the black perspective.
From the moment we met Lawrence in Season 1, Episode 1, it was clear to me that he was depressed. Laying on his and Issa’s bouch, unkempt and despondent after bombing another job interview, everything he valued was crumbling. He meekly acknowledged it two episodes later, telling Issa he had secured a sales job at Best Buy. “I know I haven’t been myself lately,” he muttered. It’s not a tacit acknowledgement, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
I saw his depression because I’ve been there. After a fruitful college writing career that made me believe I was ahead of the pack, I spent two years as the same unshowered, chronically underemployed man that Lawrence was. Sleeping as much as possible to avoid the dread of waking back up to my shitty reality. Those two years are a blur of scant, scattered memories. More of a dreary still portrait than the conscious stream of ups and downs that life is supposed to be. I didn’t diagnose it as depression until I was partly out of it; then, I could see it for what it was. But in some ways, being able to identify it made it worse. Even after being slightly above rock bottom, depression was still a dark cloud that never felt too far away from casting another shadow for another day, week, month, or year, whenever it felt like it.
The prospect of therapy was terrifying: to get help felt like a concession that I couldn’t get out of it myself, which made me feel helpless. What if I got therapy and it wasn’t enough to help me out of this? What could I do after that? I didn’t come to the point of seeking help until summer 2016, when suicidal thoughts spurned me to finally seek therapy; I was worried about what I’d do to myself if I didn’t resolve it. After intentionally showing up late for three weeks of sessions, I finally put my head down, opened up and hoped for the best.
Thankfully, it worked.
is a journalist who covers music, pop culture, film/TV, race, culture and social justice. He is an editor at Okayplayer, and his work has appeared in Complex, Billboard, Guardian, NPR, MTV, Ebony, HipHopDX, The Flint Journal-MLive, and other publications.