The stigma around mental health remains deeply rooted within communities. Living in a post-pandemic world has exacerbated the mental health conditions of many individuals. Statistics from Mental Health America show that in 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic, 19.86% of adults experienced a mental illness, equivalent to nearly 50 million Americans. Over half of these adults do not receive treatment, totaling over 27 million adults in the U.S. who remain untreated. These are shocking figures that are rapidly increasing.

Television and media personality Charlamagne Tha God aka Lenard McKelvey is one of few celebrities openly using their platform to promote awareness on mental health and battling to end the stigma surrounding it.

Charlamagne, who grew up in Monck’s Corner, South Carolina, uses his own journey as a catalyst for his struggle. His formative years were spent in a disenfranchised neighborhood, hanging out with the wrong crowd, with frequent encounters with the law. Realizing how the life he was leading would either get him killed or leave him spending his life behind bars, Charlamagne decided to change.

He worked several jobs and then began a career in radio with an internship at station Z93 Jamz in Charleston. It wasn’t until he left Moncks Corner in 2006 that his career took off. A few years later, Charlamagne joined hands with DJ Envy and Angela Yee to kickstart “The Breakfast Club.” The show went on to define culture and found a place for itself in hip-hop stardom when it was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame.

Charlamagne was first diagnosed with anxiety in 2010 during a brief stint living at home with his mother in Moncks Corner. He had just been fired from his radio job for the fourth time, had a two-year-old daughter and his relationship with his wife was far from perfect. One day, while out driving on the highway, he suddenly experienced a panic attack. Heart racing, hands cold, beads of sweat dripping down his forehead; at that moment, he felt as if his world was coming to an end. This wasn't the first time he had experienced this feeling either.

During a checkup with the doctor, the verdict was the same as always: "You have an athlete's heart, there is nothing wrong with you." This time the doctor also inquired about his mental health and whether he suffered from anxiety. The term itself perplexed Charlamagne, who had never heard of it in the context of mental health. Upon a more detailed description, he realized that he did suffer from those symptoms and needed help. Thus began his journey of self-discovery, during which Charlamagne realized that finding a new job and advancing in his career was not enough to heal deep-rooted traumas that were the cause of his deteriorating mental health.

A few years later Charlamagne began taking therapy sessions and has not looked back since. He also realized anxiety was an aspect of his life that he shared with millions of other Black Americans. According to a study conducted by Ward et al in 2013, Black and African Americans hold beliefs related to stigma, psychological openness, and help-seeking, which in turn affects their coping behaviors. It is this stigma that Charlamagne is looking to put a stop to.

In 2018, the media mogul chronicled his mental health journey in a book called Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me. The book is Charlamagne's testament to living a life free from the clutches of fear and anxiety. It outlines how reaching radio stardom did not help him get rid of the paralyzing thoughts of being a failure. By opening up about his journey, he hopes to encourage others to feel normal about seeking help and dealing with their mental health.

Charlamagne's mission to raise awareness on mental health did not just end at writing a book. He has used multiple platforms including radio, television, and organizations to enable thousands of others to seek help. Last year he launched a new initiative called the Mental Wealth Alliance (MWA). The MWA is a “forward-thinking foundation created to destigmatize, accelerate, and center state-of-the-art mental health outreach and care across the U.S. while building an unprecedented long-term system of generational support for Black communities''.

The idea is to partner with industry experts and Black-led organisations to work on MWA's three T's:

Train: prepare thousands of Black people to become research and clinical services providers in psychology, social work, and related fields through training and by establishing scholarship funds to provide training to increase the number of mental health care professionals from 4% to 14% to mirror the underserved population in need of culturally aligned mental health support.

Teach: advocate for the implementation of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) and Mental Health Literacy (MHL) in public K-12 education nationwide at federal, state, and local levels.

Treat: support culturally competent organizations in providing free therapy to more than 10 million Black Americans within five years through the support of existing organizations and funding of the establishment of new organizations.

During an interview with Forbes Magazine, the radio host said, “I hope getting these brothers and sisters to go to therapy makes them realize the things that they’re going through, whether it’s panic attacks, depression, anxiety, or PTSD, these are normal things". MWA has an initial plan to provide more than 10 million Black Americans with free pre-therapy services over 5 years.

Most recently, the Comedy Central host has begun using his latest venture to push forward his message of hope; the late-night television show, Tha God's Honest Truth with Charlamagne Tha God. The show is an unapologetic display of Charlamagne's perspective on issues facing ordinary Americans, including the discourse on mental health.

The first season has aired several episodes that discuss the stigma surrounding mental health and how to navigate through those challenges. Charlamagne has hosted several important figures in the world of mental health such as therapist and NYT best-selling author Nedra Tawwab, Dr. Rheeda Walker, Resma Menakem, and Michelle Williams. One of the episodes also promotes Inception, a mental health gym that provides a new dynamic approach to mind and body alignment.

Charlamagne seems to have discovered a secondary calling alongside his work in entertainment: to enable people to discover themselves and seek help without carrying the constant stigma of mental health.

Author's Bio: 

Alex is a professional writer and digital marketing expert