Yep! We went there! Mike Veny on being black, male and being open about mental illness

On Tuesday I met with a wonderful man called Mike Veny, he lives in New York and was in the UK with his wife for a few days and wanted to meet up with me, I was very excited!

We’d been following each other for a couple of years and I had always known that I would love to do something in conjunction with him as our attitudes and approach to mental health issues are very similar, and Tuesday was my chance!

We met at Buckingham Palace with a cameraman to film us having a conversation about some of the harder aspects of mental health and filmed for 2 hours!

I learnt so much from him, and he tells me he learnt a lot from me, we just couldn’t stop talking!  I admire Mike, he’s a black man from the US and I wanted to know how being black had affected his mental health, I really didn’t expect the answer he gave me but it’s something we should all stop and think about.

He told me that being black and opening up about having mental health issues is extremely hard.  Black people have come so far over the past couple of hundred years and a lot of their culture is based around ‘respect’, respect for their brothers and sisters and themselves for everything they have endured and where they are now.  Having said that, we all know that, sadly, racism is still rife, both here and in the States.

He explained that general perceptions are that black men are the toughest and most macho of all human males, something I couldn’t disagree with.  But that underlying belief means that it’s so hard to admit, as a black male, that you’re experiencing challenges with your mental health, it goes against the very core of their culture.

Mike has been brave enough to be open about his challenges and needing medication, it hasn’t been easy but he’s now one of the most highly respected speakers in America and his hope is to enable other people, black or not, to  be more open to getting help and to reduce the stigma attached to mental health.

He’s actually written a book called ‘Transforming Stigma’ and given a TEDx talk entitled ‘Mental Illness is an Asset’, his talk chimes extremely well with mine and we didn’t know anything about each other in 2015 when we both did our talks.

Mike is a remarkable man and I’ve made a friend for life, which I am so grateful for, people like Mike are very rare, like diamonds, and need to be treasured.  I will treasure his friendship for all eternity…

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