Tsanonda Edwards is the author of a book that deals with black men and depression, The extraORDINARY Mr. Nobody: A Beginner’s Guide to Self-Healing, and co-founder of Above It All, a mental-health organization that offers personal, professional and psychiatric rehabilitation programs for children and parents. Although Edwards has a Masters in Human Services, it’s his personal story of battling depression and anxiety that has enabled him to connect authentically with youth and create a blueprint for personal and professional success. Edwards explains why black men face greater mental health challenges and the few steps they can take to turn pain into purpose.
Black Enterprise: Your father committed suicide at a young age and you battled anxiety and depression. When did you realize you could turn this pain into purpose? What are the first steps you took to share your story?
Edwards: I started realizing I could make the pain to purpose transition in college at Morgan State University. I not only found my voice as a writer, but I was also able to hone my abilities as a listener. By listening to my friends in a non-judgmental and empathetic way and then being unafraid to offer my opinion to those who would ask allowed me to see the power in empathy and how that led to healing. The journal entries, years, and numerous stop-and-starts later, my book was born.
If I had to say one event or moment that served as a next-level catalyst for me to share my story, I would have to say my therapy sessions (my therapist Akiami McCoy is incredible!). She did three things that made the book happen: She told me that I wasn’t crazy, she told me that my testimony had power, and then she told me how to publish my book. The biggest power in that is that I actually spoke to a therapist, which is not the most common route for black people, especially black men. It was a 10-year process and I’m thrilled to have it completed.
What holds black men back from sharing their story and seeking treatment?
The first is constantly being told “get over it,” “bounce back,” “no days off,” “stop acting like a woman,” etc. While it’s important to be resilient as our people are known for it (men and women both!), we have to find ways to allow people to come to terms with mental obstacles and embrace ways to cope with them without being told they don’t exist and/or forget about them.
The second thing is fear. Black men have trouble simply going to the doctor. While I do believe we’re actually getting better at identifying issues and seeking help for physical conditions, the stigma surrounding mental health is a real one and it will definitely take time and effort to loosen its stranglehold on the minds of my brothers.
When it comes to supporting men who are battling depression and anxiety, what do you believe is the most underestimated tactic?
Building a true support system. Friends, family, members of your spiritual community, therapists, etc. Again, as men, we’re still expected to be stalwarts and leaders at home, at work, and in the community and rightly so, but depression, anxiety and the like are seen as weaknesses as opposed to mental health barriers that can be embraced and overcome. This often leads men to become “pseudo-actors,” never letting anyone see them sweat. So when you have a true support system that understands the issues you face and are ready to reinforce the efforts we take personally to be our best selves, it speeds up progress. Yes, it starts with you, but a true support system is priceless.
What is your favorite chapter of your book?
Chapter 3, ‘A Product of Divorce and Depression.’ I talk about my father’s suicide and his battle with bipolar disorder/manic depression. This chapter pushed me to be open and honest about my own battles with depression. One of my ultimate goals with the book is to let others know that you can lead a happy, successful life despite the mental health issues you face and despite those who are uncomfortable with others having or talking about these issues. Yes, any struggle is a part of you, but it doesn’t define you.
What are three key messages you want people to take away from the book?
- You are not alone.
- Your story is valuable. Allow it to be heard and potentially save someone’s life.
- You’re your own advocate when it comes to personal healing, so be your absolute best you and don’t let others dictate what that looks like.