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'I Fell Apart': Former NFL Player Says There's Nothing Weak About Men Getting Therapy

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only eight percent of men in the U.S. seek counseling or therapy. Experts say reasons can vary from societal pressures and fear of vulnerability to shame and religious barriers. 

Former Green Bay Packer turned mental health therapist Jay Barnett is pushing back against that narrative. For Barnett, playing football became his identity. When his NFL career ended, depression set in and he tried to take his own life.

"When football fell apart, when I got sent home I fell apart. And that was when I attempted – I had my first attempt," he recalled.

Like many African American men, Barnett struggled growing up without a father. He also endured abuse at the hands of his stepfather, hiding that pain for years out of fear of appearing weak. 
"The way we're socialized as men, the way in which we have been developed to not really focus on our emotional and our mental elements of our development, we are taught to focus on the physicality, right?" Barnett said during an interview on CBN's Prayerlink. 

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"Getting in the gym, building muscles, becoming faster, all of those different things. And no one is really helping us define what it is when it comes to our emotional parts. Every man, I'm sure in some point of his life has heard 'men don't cry,' or 'man up,'" he said. 

Barnett believes that is why so many Black men struggle mentally and emotionally, something recent statistics seem to confirm.

While overall U.S. suicide rates have decreased in recent years, numbers are rising in the black community. A 2021 study by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that Black men had a larger increase in suicide attempts than any other racial group. 

Attempts among Black male adolescents increased by 47 percent from 2013 to 2019.

"The rates are increasing daily because men feel like they can't share what they're feeling because their masculinity is going to be questioned, sexuality is going to be questioned, and then their weaknesses," said Barnett. "And then what I share with brothers, there's this thing about vulnerability that I've discovered that it's not displaying how weak we are. It's actually displaying how strong we are."

In a 2022 interview, actor, comedian, and gospel singer David Mann also revealed his secret battle with depression.

"It's touchy for me because I haven't shared it with anybody," Mann said. "I said the only way that people were going to realize that I was drowning is if I completely drowned. And I can't say anything to anybody because I gotta make sure you're fixed. I gotta make sure you're good. I gotta make sure everybody's good. And it just hit me – I need to see a therapist."

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Award-winning Christian singer Anthony Evans also struggled with his mental health after the loss of several loved ones, including his mother.

"I've taken steps in my life via therapy, which I had to," Evans said in an interview with CBN News. "I mean after all this stuff I was like, 'I'm about to lose it. Like it's too much.'"

"We all have those points in life where it's too much," Evans explained. "And I had to make a decision, am I going to allow this too much to take me down? Or am I going to do what I can? And there were moments where I had where it took everything in me to sit down with my therapist and talk through this stuff."

Evans went on to say that stigma in the Black community often prevents men from seeking treatment.

"I think it's one of the most important things period as related to culture, but especially in African American culture," he said. "It's harder to stand against it, but the change that we need to see in our culture in general to me comes from you being not only healthy spiritually but mental health, spiritual health and emotional health are all tied together."

As a believer, Evans admits that faith isn't always enough. It's something he wrote about in his book When Faith Meets Therapy

"There's something in our culture, in faith culture even, that goes like, 'Uh no – pray – pray harder.'  For some of us and I'm careful when I say this 'cause I don't want it to sound bad, but for some of us reading 'be anxious for nothing' is not enough. We need tools on how to be anxious for nothing. Tools on how to forgive or tools on how to love correctly or tools on how to undo trauma."

Barnett agrees with that sentiment.

"I'm not saying prayer doesn't work in the scope of mental health, but sometimes you need to couple with counseling, which provides clarity and context," Barnett said.

Barnett now hosts a global initiative called Just Heal Bro, designed to help Black men find strength in vulnerability and healing through education and community. 

Meanwhile, Evans says seeking professional help is not a sign of weakness but a sign of someone serious about moving forward emotionally and spiritually.

"I had to get almost to the point of a breakdown. I didn't have to go to the point of almost losing my mind, my career, my ministry to figure out that you needed help. And now I want through the music, through the book When Faith Meets Therapy, I want people to not have to go to the point of breakdown to figure out they need help," said Evans.  

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About The Author

Charlene Aaron

Charlene Aaron serves as a general assignment reporter, news anchor, co-host of The 700 Club, co-host of 700 Club Interactive, and co-host of The Prayerlink on the CBN News Channel. She covers various social issues, such as abortion, gender identity, race relations, and more. Before joining CBN News in 2003, she was a personal letter writer for Dr. Pat Robertson. Charlene attended Old Dominion University and Elizabeth City State University. She is an ordained minister and pastor’s wife. She lives in Smithfield, VA, with her husband.