Authors of "The Invisible Ache" Discuss Perils and Progress in Black Male Mental Health
At a recent event at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, acclaimed actor Courtney B. Vance spoke emotionally about his father's suicide while discussing his new book "The Invisible Ache." This personal story highlighted a broader issue often overlooked - the hidden mental health struggles faced by many Black men.
Vance and co-author Dr. Robin L. Smith, a renowned psychologist, aimed to tackle this crisis facing Black men. "We wear the mask that grins and lies," Vance quoted poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, as he and Smith encouraged the audience to remove their figurative masks. The two explored the importance of acknowledging and healing from generational trauma in a discussion about their new book.
Vance, known for acting roles ranging from "The People v. O.J. Simpson" to "Dangerous Liaisons" on Broadway, traced the origins of the book to his trauma when his father took his own life. His mother pushed the family to get therapy to process the tragedy. Though initially resistant, Vance embraced the journey of discovering his dreams and emotions through treatment.
The event highlighted Vance's mother for defying the stigma around mental health in the Black community. By urging her family into therapy, she challenged the expectation that Black men ignore pain and quickly "move on." Her action enabled intergenerational healing.
However, Smith noted such openness remains rare, as stoicism often conceals emotional struggles among Black men. Systemic racism and harmful masculinity norms leave many Black men feeling invisible, forcing trauma underground. But refusing to acknowledge mental anguish causes more suffering.
Smith praised Vance for having the courage to be emotionally transparent throughout their book. She said suppressing feelings also limits the ability to experience joy fully. They encouraged audiences to create safe spaces for truth-telling and rediscovering self-worth.
Nuanced biases persist, as Black male pain is often still met with doubt or dismissal. While explicit racism has decreased, subtle language remains that Black men should silently endure trauma.
Nonetheless, Vance and Smith were optimistic about progress in audiences willing to listen. They believe we may reach an era when mental health in the Black community is discussed as openly as physical health.
The event provided a thoughtful dialogue about that ongoing journey. There are triumphs to celebrate, pioneers to honor, and work still ahead. Vance and Smith covered it all openly and compassionately. In examining Black male vulnerability, they offered insights that resonated beyond one family's story.
The full discussion can be viewed below. This event was generously supported by the DC Public Library Foundation.