Backtalk with Ginuwine

Multiplatinum recording artist talks about his bout with depression and his commitment to helping others suffering from it

Elgin “Ginuwine” Lumpkin rose to stardom after his 1996 debut with his first single, “Pony.” But just four years later, both his parents had died and the multiplatinum R&B artist spiraled into a major depression and turned to substance abuse. The father of eight and his wife Tonya, former hip-hop artist Solé, have since focused their efforts on helping individuals battle mental illness. In 2008, the couple partnered with philanthropist Terry Mason to start S.P.R.U.C.E. (Special People Requiring Unique Care Equally), a Kansas City, Missouri-based program that assists adults who are mentally ill or have developmental disabilities. The 34-year-old Washington, D.C. native opened up to Black Enterprise about his bout with depression and what he’s doing to help others.

You recently founded a program to provide assistance to people with psychiatric disabilities. What brought you to the cause?
There are a lot of mental illnesses [in] the black community. My dad shot himself in the head. He called me before he did it. As a father he was trying to hold up a strong presentation for me and for his family, but deep inside he was hurting. I feel like that sometimes now, but I’ll say something. You don’t want to keep everything in because it will start to pack on and you’ll never know what you will do when you get to that breaking point. It’s important to just talk.

When were you aware that depression was a problem for you?

My mom died of cancer the year after my father. It really hurt me. I was ready to end it a few times. I knew I was suffering from depression; I was turning into another person. The people around me didn’t even want to be around me. I didn’t like the person that they were telling me that I was. I took the road of self-medicating. Drinking was one of my getaways; I got caught up in partying and drugs like weed and Ecstasy. I needed that getaway for a while because at that point I felt like I had no shoulders to lean on, no one to talk to. And being a father, I had people depending on me. It was a lot to bear.

Depression affects a lot of families but it is seldom publicly discussed. Were you open to getting help?
I didn’t want anyone around me even though I knew I was sad and needed people around me. I didn’t want to bring my situation on others. I went to a psychiatrist one time and they tried to put me on medication. To me that’s just messing yourself up even more. I started telling myself, “You’re stronger than this. You’re not going to fall victim to drugs and be one of those statistics you read about.” First you have to realize that you have a problem. Then you have to do something about it and dedicate yourself to doing that. In 2005 I started going to church and got saved. That’s when everything really started to become clearer.

And now you’re using your platform as an artist to help those who are still going through it?
It’s my duty as an artist, a father, a husband, as a man period, to be a firm example of what it means to be a helper and what it means to make a statement as a man and stand strong. I’m around youngsters a lot, and I think as far as the younger generation, depression is one of the biggest illnesses among us right now. The only way I can see to fix that is to bring awareness to it. And that’s why I try to do that every opportunity I can. That’s why every opportunity I get, I explain to the young generation how vital it is to talk to people, and open your mouth and let someone know that you’re going through something. Because I totally understand depression. I’ve been there, I’ve been through it.

–Additional reporting by Alana Wyche

  • Kathy

    I applaud Ginuwine and his wife for bringing this issue out into the light. More African-Americans like myself are struggling with depression than would care to admit because it’s usually thought of as a “white” illness and that we’re so busy just trying to care for home & family, and work…you name it, that we don’t take the time to care for ourselves. When we do attempt to reach out to family and friends, we’re told “stop acting foolish; ain’t nothing wrong with you but u need sleep. You need to get over it”. I don’t think people realize how disheartening depression really is & what it does to your health & your spirit. Anyway, thank you so much for drawing attention to this issue.

  • Henry Lloyd McCurtis

    It is normal to have sadness. It is normal to grieve the loss of loved ones. It is normal to even grieve the loss of job, status, and position. The work of grief and depression must not be confused. Depression varies in onset, intensity, and duration. Depression is often associated with other painful emotions. Anxiety is the most common accompanying emotion that complicates and worsens the experience of depression. Depression alone are combined with anxiety influences how one thinks and acts, The ultimate effect is often impaired social and vocational functioning. The common advise from friends, family, and lay supports is too often to “just get over it”, “pull your self together”, ” You need to Pray” etc. The appeals to will power are misguided and reflect a lack of literacy regarding mental illness. Depression is not a manifestation of character but rather a manifestation of chemistry that colors and alters character. Just as one would not advise willpower only to control diabetes, hypertension, malaria, or sickle cell crisis, it is equally ill advised to rely only on these injunctions and urgings when suffering depression. The best evidence shows that a combination of talk therapy and medication have the best outcome. This is supplemented with aerobic exercise and understanding and accepting social support.

  • Keianna

    So proud of Elgin….I love saying his government name lol…It is a wonderful work he is doing. There isn’t much help for people with mental illness. It good to know someone care. We all deal with depression, rage etc from time to time. May God bless him & his wife.

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