LGBT Men’s Health Mind

Exploring Mental Health Challenges & Substance Use in Black MSM

Written by Evans Kinyua

MSM stands for “Men who have Sex with Men.” It is an inclusive term that describes males who engage in sexual activity with other males, regardless of their sexual orientation. Sexual behavior may not always align with an individual’s sexual orientation. Although MSM is classified under LGBTQ+, not all men in MSM identify with gay sexual orientation. Men in this category engage in specific sexual behaviors without strictly defining their sexual identities. These men are at risk of contracting most sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.

Drugs and substances that Black MSM abuse are readily available and accessible by most Black communities. Accessibility is one of the most common causes for increased usage of addictive substances among Black MSM. Most drugs are licensed and legal to use, and this encourages substance abuse. Black culture has one of the most rigid cultural practices in the world. Black men are viewed as strong and can handle any stressful situations, such as depression and anxiety. However, all human beings need help in handling certain levels of stress and depression. Black men who seek help are perceived to be weak and incapable of handling life issues courageously. Therefore, Black MSM fears disclosing their mental challenges and instead turn to drug abuse and alcoholism as a means of validating their situations and dealing with depression and stress. Some substances common among Black MSM include alcohol, tobacco/nicotine, illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and prescription medications such as opioids and benzodiazepines. These medications are acquired through illegal means through dealers or prescriptions without a legitimate need.

Reasons why substance abuse is more common among Black MSM

  1. Social Stigma and Discrimination

Black MSM often faces compounded discrimination due to their race and sexual orientation. This intersectionality results in increased stress, anxiety, and feelings of isolation, contributing to higher rates of substance abuse and mental health issues. Societal stigma and prejudice against both being Black and identifying as LGBTQ+ can create a hostile environment, impacting mental well-being. Black MSM are discriminated against by other MSM due to their race, leading to more stress and depression.

  • Cultural Expectations

Within the Black community, traditional views of masculinity and societal pressures can create barriers to seeking help. Black men are perceived to be strong and should not demonstrate signs of vulnerability. The fear of judgment or rejection often prevents Black MSM from discussing mental health concerns openly or seeking professional support. These cultural expectations might eventually lead to prolonged depression; hence, Black MSM use drugs as a coping mechanism.

  • Lack of Accessible Resources

Limited access to culturally competent mental health services is a significant challenge. There’s often a shortage of resources tailored to the specific needs and experiences of Black MSM. Poor representation and understanding of Black MSM within the healthcare system lead to mistrust and reluctance to seek help.

  • Coping Mechanisms

Due to the stress and depression associated with intersecting identities, some Black MSM turn to substance use as a way to cope with discrimination, trauma, or societal pressures. Substance abuse becomes a way to temporarily alleviate the emotional pain or distress caused by these experiences.

  • Historical and Systemic Factors

Historical injustices, such as systemic racism and disparities in healthcare, have long-lasting effects on Black communities. These systemic factors contribute to reduced access to opportunities and resources, which manifest in increased stress and mental health challenges among Black MSM.

Solutions to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Challenges Among Black MSM

Community Support and Empowerment

Safe Spaces: Establishing safe and supportive environments within the community where Black MSM feel accepted and understood can foster trust and encourage seeking help without fear of judgment.

Support Networks: Building support networks, including peer support groups or Black community organizations, can provide invaluable emotional and informational support to Black MSM.

Culturally Competent Care and Resources

Enhanced Access: Increasing access to culturally competent mental health services specifically tailored to the needs of Black MSM is crucial. This includes ensuring representation and understanding within healthcare systems.

Education and Awareness: Educating healthcare providers about the intersectional experiences and needs of Black MSM can improve the quality of care and reduce stigma.

Advocacy and Policy Reform

Policy Changes: Advocating for policies that prioritize mental health services for marginalized communities, such as black MSM, addressing systemic issues, and promoting equity within healthcare systems is essential.

Anti-Stigma Campaigns: Launching campaigns to combat stigma and discrimination against both the Black and LGBTQ+ communities can help create more inclusive and supportive environments.

Strengthening Coping Mechanisms

Healthy Coping Strategies: Encouraging and promoting healthy coping mechanisms, such as mindfulness practices, peer support, or culturally relevant therapeutic approaches, can help reduce reliance on substance abuse for Black MSM.

Education and Outreach

Community-Based Education: Implementing educational programs within the black community that address mental health and substance abuse while acknowledging cultural nuances can break down misconceptions and encourage seeking help.

Collaborative Efforts

Partnerships: Collaborating with community leaders, healthcare providers, advocacy groups, and policymakers to develop comprehensive strategies that address the specific needs and challenges Black MSM faces.

For further reading:

Anderson, A. A. (2021). Substance Use, Mental Health Problems and Missed Appointments by Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation among HIV-Infected Individuals (Doctoral dissertation, Walden University).

Hotton, A., Quinn, K., Schneider, J., & Voisin, D. (2019). Exposure to community violence and substance use among Black men who have sex with men: examining the role of psychological distress and criminal justice involvement. AIDS care31(3), 370-378.

Zaller, N., Yang, C., Operario, D., Latkin, C., McKirnan, D., O’donnell, L., … & Spikes, P. (2017). Alcohol and cocaine use among Latino and African American MSM in 6 US cities. Journal of substance abuse treatment80, 26-32.

About the author

Evans Kinyua

Evans is a writing enthusiast with a quench for knowledge and a flair for storytelling. He is a versatile writer who navigates various disciplines with ease. His expertise spans a wide spectrum, allowing him to delve into diverse subjects, ranging from history, science, technology, and business to arts, culture, psychology, and more. As a seasoned wordsmith, Evans excels in delivering captivating and informative articles that resonate with audiences across different fields.

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