Mental health and the hip-hop generation
Back in May, I talked with Detroit rapper Invincible about the reasons why her video “Ropes” was pulled from MTV (read story here). During our conversation she introduced me to the Hip Hop Mental Health Project (HHMHP), an organization that seeks to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and act as an informational resource. The difference between the HHMHP and other mental health organizations however, is that it was founded to help those in the hip-hop community.
As Invincible explained to me, many in the hip-hop community are struggling with mental health issues, but are often hesitant to seek treatment or openly speak about their problems. She then put me in touch with a woman named Jessica Rucell, HHMHP’s program coordinator. I recently contacted Jessica, asking her for a primer on the organization.
When and why was the Hip Hop Mental Health Project founded?
Jessica Rucell: Rha Goddess was compelled to create The Hip Hop Mental Health Project after the suicide of close friend and mentor Weldon Irvine, Jr. Weldon was a mentor to many artists in the hip-hop community and when he took his life in 2002 the community was largely silent about his struggle and what they were being forced to confront. This coupled with Rha’s experience and awareness of violence and trauma in many urban communities where there is a lack of safe outlets for those who are affected to access tools to heal from the impact that these “circumstances” have on their well being. All of this brought Rha to the realization that mental illness was not only something that some families were suffering from but a huge issue in the hip-hop community in general and it wasn’t being addressed.
Rha’s long history in hip-hop and the role she has played as an artist/activist/social entrepreneur dedicated to empowerment and the natural inclination of this community to use art as a vehicle for healing and resiliency make our approach and our work within the hip-hop community a natural fit.
Rha created and toured LOW: Meditation Trilogy Part I, a solo performance work that fuses monologue, movement, and music highlighting the societal stressors that can contribute to the decline in one’s mental health. LOW toured the country engaging audiences in dialogues about mental health for three years. And in 2008 The Hip Hop Mental Health Project was born to continue breaking the silence in the hip-hop generation about mental health and wellness, providing a culturally relevant, artistic and social justice approach to how we can support ourselves and one another in being well.
The project approaches wellness from hip-hop, social justice, and transformation lenses, with a focus on the hip-hop generation (ages 18-35). Mental health service agencies have the hardest time reaching low income, urban, and of color community largely because of the cultural gap between these communities and the inherent mistrust on both sides resulting from the legacies of mistreatment marginalized communities have and non-culturally relevant approaches by clinicians. We work with both community members and mental health practitioners using our lenses to bridge these gaps.
What are the primary mental health issues in the hip-hop community?
The hip-hop community is a transnational racially and economically diverse community and in terms of wellness we also run the gamut. The statistics for mental illness in the U.S. put one in four adults suffering from a diagnosable mental illness – bi-polar, schizophrenia, depression, etc. And 15 million people with a serious mental disorder receive little or no care.
The statistics for the incarcerated population in the U.S. are appalling. According to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics report from 2006 the population of U.S. prisoners living with mental illness has increased from 283,000 in 1998 to an estimated 1.25 million.
There has not been adequate research done on the 18-35 year old urban demographic but if we were to extrapolate from what we know from minority youth statistics among the risk factors of violence, incarceration, and unemployment, we can surmise that the core of the Hip Hop community is disproportionately affected by wellness and mental health issues.
At the Hip Hop Mental Health Project we look at this epidemic from a social justice, hip-hop and community perspective. We see it as more than a chemical imbalance some people have – we see every person’s wellness as a swinging pendulum always on a continuum. And for those living in poverty, violence, those who are marginalized, and those who are dis-empowered the cumulative impact of these factors causes the curve of our swinging pendulum -our journey- to be more extreme. These current realities coupled with the legacies of oppressions block access to culturally competent and compassionate, diagnosis treatment and care. The Hip Hop Mental Health Project is here to provide space and build community for all of us to get support in our (R)evolution to be well. And for many of us that requires healing and community. In the words of LOW this is what we are dealing with:
How dare we ignore the signs,
You know the writing on the wall?
The words spelled in blood of victims
Unfortunate enough to be in the proximity of
Tightly wound rubber bands that have snapped!!
Carrying postal bags, carrying executive pink slips,
Carrying Jansport backpacks, brand new babies, freshly worn heartbreaks
And I don’t love you anymores…
Pretty soon the random is not the random but
The pattern – of a patchwork society that would rather
Drug and confine…..
Far worse than Small Pox
Tuberculosis, or Scarlet Fever this is the mental HIV
Of the new millennium, and we are surrounded
Nobody move, nobody drink the water….
Until they can assure any of us…..
That at least one of us…..
How does the HHMHP raise awareness and educate people in the community about mental health issues?
We educate about mental health and raise awareness about the intersections of oppressions that impact our wellness through performances, community dialogues and trainings in our Arts Based Civic Transformation model. We have the dream of a HOT web portal that is rooted in Hip Hop, promotes the artistry of those speaking to wellness and is a SAFE forum to receive and share information and stories.