As a child, Reginald Howard struggled with destructive visions, moments where he imagined destroying the shelves at the corner store or pushing another child down, but when he tried to identify what was happening, his mother attributed it to his “Howard blood.”
“At that point, I probably should have been in therapy but because there’s such a stigma behind therapy in the Black community, and around the world but I’ll start within my community, I really didn’t get the help that I needed,” Howard said.
His father also struggled with mental illness, a situation that led Howard’s grandmother to refer to him and his sister as “demon children.”
Howard’s mental health went unaddressed as a child and he continued to struggle with mental illness into adulthood, which led to a crisis point in 2011.
Out of work at 20 years old, he learned his now-fiancé was pregnant. The anxiety of impending fatherhood triggered a depression in Howard, whose own father was in and out of his life.
“That really started making me spiral out of control, which led me to text few close family members and friends to say, ‘Take care of my son, I don’t want to be here anymore,’” Howard said.
Friends and family were able intervene during two separate suicide attempts by Howard, but he didn’t get into therapy for the first time until 2018, he said. His crisis points led Howard to do research and seek help, which allowed him to finally manage his own mental health problems.
It was his own journey to healing that inspired Howard to become more vocal about the benefits of therapy, inspiring him to become a mental health advocate and to create the “Black Mental Health Podcast” to let others know they’re not alone.
“I think the Black community has a language and the mental health community has a language,” Howard said. “And my purpose is to combine those languages together. I think this is two different languages but they speak the same truth.”
The mental health of Black Americans is under strain as 2020 unravels, bringing to light racial disparities across the country. Notable Black celebrities, such as Michelle Obama and Gabrielle Union, opened up in recent weeks about how racial strife in America has affected their own wellbeing.
Union, who has been vocal on social issues and her own experiences, said in an interview with Women’s Health that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress.
“The combination of a pandemic and this racial reckoning, alongside being inundated with (images of) the brutalization of Black bodies, has sent my PTSD into overdrive,” she said. “There’s just terror in my body.”
A global pandemic and a series of Black American deaths at the hands of police have placed the spotlight once again on the ways racism can pervade institutions unnoticed. The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have become recent rallying points for protests against racist structures over this past year.