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How a former NFL player is working to address mental health issues in Black men

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Posted at 6:27 AM, Apr 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-14 09:22:38-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- A wellness tour coming to Virginia Commonwealth University Thursday hopes to raise awareness about the importance of mental health support for Black men.

This comes as statistics show suicide rates in the African American community have doubled over the past two years.

Former professional football player, Jay Barnett, recently published his journal called “Just Heal Bro,” which is the inspiration behind the "Just Heal Bro" book tour.

His goal is to reach Black men in their own communities,and let them know they are not alone and that there are resources available for them.

Barnett said the message of this tour is personal, as he is a suicide attempt survivor.

"I'm able to speak not only just from a clinical perspective as a therapist, but I'm also able to speak from the side of I've lived in it," said Barnett. "Through experience, I've dealt with the roles, and I have fought the battles of not having a safe space and not feeling like I have a voice."

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Jay Barnett

Barnett explained African American adults are 20% more likely to experience mental health issues than the rest of the population. He hopes the tour helps Black men find strength in vulnerability and emotional healing through education and community.

"What I often share is having a duality, and being a lion and being a lamb, because the world pushes us to talk about and to function and operate about masculinity, but not the operate in our emotions," said Barnett. "Because we cannot do one without the other. You need both to be able to balance, not just as a man, but just who you are as a human being."

Clinical psychologist and Norfolk State University professor Dr. Oshan Gadsden is a speaker at Thursday night's event and he said there’s a shortage of Black men in the field of clinical psychology and counseling.

He explained 95% people of color will end therapy prematurely, usually after the first session, because of the cultural divide with the therapist.

"We need more black male practitioners," Gadsden noted. "We need more black practitioners who they feel they identify with, but there are wonderful white practitioners that are also able to see Black males."

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Dr. Oshan Gadsden

Gadsden and Barnett explain you don't have to struggle with mental health issues to attend the session, but they want Black men in the Richmond community to know there are resources available, and you shouldn't be ashamed to seek help.

"We need to help Black men understand that getting therapy is a source of strength, actually," said Gadsden. "It is a testament and an opportunity to show that you're so resolved and strengthened in your desire to be whole that you understand the importance of leaning on someone when they can help you through that process."

The event is free and will kick off Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in VCU’s Academic Learning Commons.

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