Words By, Melandra Roberts
The month of May is widely becoming known as Mental Health Awareness Month and with Men’s Mental Health Week (13th June – 19th June) coming to a close, Trinbagonian artist Kalpee is continuing to use his platform to break barriers and end the stigma associated with black men and mental health within the Caribbean community.
By openly talking about the issues Caribbean men are facing, Kalpee is normalising conversations that have often been deemed too taboo. Using his own personal experience to push the conversation forward in a positive light.
After a fatal accident almost took his life, Kalpee realised he “had a responsibility to make each day count.”
In doing so, this highlighted the need for more awareness surrounding mental health, how we talk about it and the prospects of changing attitudes among younger generations.
As an artist you represent more than just your music, how important is it to spark conversations around mental health and well-being?
Kalpee: “As mental health amongst men is not spoken about in the Caribbean, I (after the accident) didn’t even realise that I needed support…As the scars healed, I was expected to just “get on with it” and so that’s what I did, as I was so used to doing. I honestly was so depressed, my anxiety was through the roof, but I didn’t know how to express that.”
There is a combination of cultural traditions, economic, social and political factors that make the receiving of mental health care inaccessible in the Caribbean.
He continues: “Once healed physically, I travelled to the USA and UK which is where I learnt that opening up about what’s on your mind is imperative to leading a happy and healthy life. I was so lucky to find this support and truly believe that it should be available to all in any country.”
Mental health is globally more talked about but still seems to be a silent epidemic amongst black men within Caribbean culture. How much of this do you feel is challenged in racism?
Kalpee: “Racism definitely effects your mental health as its trauma and in my opinion, acceptance is definitely a repetitive issue throughout the islands when it comes to multiple topics, skin colour, religion or sexual orientation…. I believe that teaching the true value of acceptance and celebrating individuality will help open our minds to being able to converse more about such intimate and challenging topics.
Do you feel the expectations around black masculinity, such as the requirement to be ‘strong’ have prevented Caribbean men from seeking appropriate care when it come to their mental health?
Kalpee: “Definitely! As boys we are taught that men are protectors, providers and pillars of strength. Weakness is not classified as being manly and masculinity is challenged if you don’t fit in the box that society has depicted as the stereotypical male. I totally understand that back in the day that may have been so, but nowadays, as we push for equality amongst men and women, we also need to change our perspective to match it.”
Because of the traditional expectations and gender roles that are held for men, they are less likely to discuss or seek out help for their mental health issues. In a society that emphasises how damaging certain stereotypes can be towards women – it’s important to recognise that men can equally be damaged by stereotypes and expectations also.
Going forward, what do you feel needs to be implemented to make black men more comfortable with openly talking about mental health and seeking the correct help?
Kalpee: “The conversations around Caribbean men and mental health are definitely opening up, especially around the younger generations, which is a really positive step. I feel that more open conversations are needed, which is why this Men’s Mental Health week myself and other Caribbean male artist are supporting the Island Wave “Let’s Talk About It” Campaign. Together we hope that by opening up to the media in regards to our own experiences, it will resonate with someone reading and encourage them to reach out for help.
What would you say to the young man (person) reading right now who feels like they cannot take that first step to admitting they need help/support and may feel embarrassed to talk about their mental health?
Kalpee: “I can appreciate what you might be feeling and I see how challenging that might be. Just know, it’s okay not to be okay and you definitely are not alone. I find that talking to someone you trust, who you can be open with, really does help take some of the weight off of your shoulders. At first, I also felt embarrassed to open up about my mental, (health)…Honestly it takes so much courage to recognise and accept a mental struggle, so that shows how strong you are and that anything this universe throws your way, you got this.
Kalpee is a multi-faceted Caribbean artist, who delivers a modern fusion of calypso, dancehall and reggae rhythms laced with rock inspired guitar riffs and supported by soulful melodies. This fresh sound is aptly named ‘New Calypso.’
Music is essentially a universal language, do you feel more artists should create awareness for mental health issues via their platforms, music etc.?
Kalpee: “In my opinion we underestimate how much positive music has the ability to heal, especially if someone resonates with a lyric or just the overall energy in a song. I’ve seen for myself how much music can inspire you, and that motivation to recognise that as artists, or anyone with a public platform, we have a choice as to the energy we decide to put out into the world. I suppose due to everything I have overcome I see it as a responsibility to put positivity into everything I do.”
The topic of mental health is still evolving, but it’s important to know it affects how you think, feel and act. It determines how you relate to others and how you handle situations in your life. From childhood to adolescence all the way through to adulthood, mental health can impact you at every stage.
Black men suffering with mental health issues are not always easily recognised or accepted in some settings. Do you feel there needs to be more accountability with establishments such as schools, workplaces, even the household?
Kalpee: “Definitely, everything is education and I think, finding ways to teach around this topic, especially in schools, will help normalise the conversation within the next generation, their peers and their households. If we gain a better understating around mental health and wellness exercises, we’ll have more tools to guide ourselves and others when it comes to dealing with and recognising things like, social anxiety and depression.”
By opening up the conversation we can make it easier for men, especially those in the Caribbean community to share their experiences and begin to recognise that looking after your mental health and well-being does not make you ‘less’ of a man.
Kalpee adds: “We have to make it easier, to want to communicate our feelings and challenges, because at the moment, it seems like there might be several blocks, based on the perception over the years surrounding mental health, especially in places like the Caribbean.”
Through sharing his story about dealing with his own mental health, Kalpee is sending a reassuring message to his community and reaffirming that “talking about it more will bring awareness” so that as a community we can start implementing change that will impact positively.
I leave you with this, do not suffer silently. We all know how it feels when we wish we could have said more to prevent a situation from happening in our lives. How much more with your own mental health?