NewsHillsborough County


Local non-profit works to change the stigma around mental health, focusing on men of color

Gentlemen's Quest
Posted at 5:50 AM, Dec 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-21 17:01:12-05

TAMPA, Fla — The unexpected death of beloved hip hop dancer DJ Stephen "tWitch" Boss shocked his fans and friends. A public figure who brought joy into so many homes, he died by suicide.

While it can be jarring to see someone outwardly happy die by suicide, mental health experts said it's more common than people think.

Suicide is even more common among Black and Hispanic men ages 18 to 44.

The American Psychological Association reported that just 26% who experience daily feelings of anxiety or depression seek help, compared to 45% of non-Hispanic white men with the same feelings.

One local nonprofit is working to change that.

"One of the tools and strategies that we use in our program that we find to be extremely helpful to our students, is to get these young men to actually open up and to share their inner thoughts," Gentlemen's Quest of Tampa executive director Tavis Myrick said.

Myrick said they focus specifically on feelings and emotions.

"As men, we've been socialized to not share our thoughts, feelings and emotions," Myrick continued. "We're told that we're this or we're that if we communicate, we're told that we're weak or we're showing signs of weakness if we express those emotions, and so for us it's just important to get these kids to open up."

The program serves Black and Hispanic male students throughout Hillsborough County.

"They're in a single parent home, or maybe their parents make a certain amount of money that caused them to qualify for the program. Maybe they have displayed certain behavioral outbursts or incidences that caused them to come into the program," Myrick said.

The Gentlemen's Quest along with Myrick help people like Alton Johnson work through conflict and towards a healthy, successful life.

"When we first met, I opened up to him about, you know, everything," Johnson said. "I was just completely real and he never judged me. He still saw me for a great person."

Johnson said leaning on his new support system and learning how to process his emotions continues to change his life for the better.

"I really do feel like that is a stigma for most men," Johnson added. "Like, if you're around your friends, your homeboys, or maybe your significant other, you're always trying to be that tough person, or that man. When I sit down and talk to him, he kind of puts that out the way."

According to the CDC, in 2020, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. for people ages 10 to 64.

"It's important for people to recognize that you are important. You are just as worthy as the next person," Myrick said.

Johnson added that journaling and sharing his story relieves some of the everyday pressures. He encourages others to reach out, just like he did.

"If you're feeling depressed, if you're having bad thoughts, go to someone, speak to someone close and just get the help," he said.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide call or text 988. Free help is available 24/7.