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WPGM Commentary: Kalpee Discusses Men’s Mental Health Awareness With Fellow Caribbean Artists

My name is Kalpee, and for me, even though I’m a heterosexual male, I’m definitely not naturally an alpha male and I’ve got some feminine qualities that I’m definitely not ashamed of! Having been a singer since I was a child, I would sing anywhere I could, be that choir, musicals or music festivals and because of that at times it felt as though, Trini society, didn’t label me as “man enough”.

I’ve had so many experiences over the years, where people have been so offended by my level of masculinity, where they have felt the need to remind me by shouting abusive comments at me and sometimes even getting physical.

When I look back now, I realize that the lack of acknowledgment for men’s mental health in the Caribbean goes hand in hand with how we view acceptance in general and that we need to adopt a mindset that encourages one another to want to be individuals.

People’s view on what equates “a man” within the Caribbean, I feel very much depends on your upbringing as a child and the environment you grow up in. As a youth all you know and understand is what is taught to you by your own society, that is until you get to a stage where you’re able to decide for yourself what your view on things are.

In order for things to change, we need those teaching the youth today to address the issues being faced and take responsibility on educating our future leaders.

Everything is education, so from the teachers, to the youths, to the politicians running our countries, I think it’s extremely important that we find ways to implement teachings around mental health and mental illnesses, as well as, acceptance in general. It seems like the fear of difference, is holding back our growth as a society and our potential as a united Caribbean people.

The conversations around Caribbean men and mental health are definitely opening up, especially around the younger generations, which is a really positive step, but I’m sure for most, growing up, in the Caribbean, especially throughout school life, nothing of that sort was ever spoken about.

With no advice on how to deal with our emotions, we just had to feel our feelings and go through our individual struggles, so that makes it more challenging to open up now.

Mental health is everyone’s conversation, so it’s necessary that we find and learn to use the tools, to allow us to openly communicate and help each other face the challenges, because I promise, you are not alone.

I gathered a few other male music artists within the black Caribbean community to speak about their experiences and what can be done to better perspectives around men’s mental health. Here’s what they had to say.

Popeye Caution (Artist – Jamaica)

Family would be the word that best describes what it means to be a man in the Caribbean community. We maintain a very close relationship with our family members and nothing comes between that! For me, a Caribbean man takes on so many responsibilities from a young age since we all have to contribute to survive in a third-world environment.

By doing so, we can’t really accept failure or be seen as mentally weak because we think it will let the family down. In the past there’s been a negative attitude towards a man that expresses mental weakness in the Caribbean but platforms like this and open conversations are slowly making men feel comfortable to express their pain or emotional hiccups.

I think if we talk more about our mental health amongst our close circles and also in the entertainment industry we can influence our fans to embrace mental health issues.

Mental health hasn’t really been something that we have focused upon and educated ourselves on within the Afro-Caribbean community in general, in the instances of moments of feeling low, generally speaking, we have been taught to ‘fix up ya self’ and get on with it, be strong. The only reason why there seems to be help lacking in our community around mental health , is simply because we haven’t made it a priority in educating ourselves on it.

Oritse Williams (Artist – Trinidad and Tobago)

The muting of emotions has commonly been the norm for people of Afro-Caribbean culture within our households. For some reason conversations at home have been a taboo with generations suffering in silence. We now need to look at the local authorities to initiate the support required by implementing services such as free help lines which are still not ready available or advertised within the Islands.

Izy (Grammy Award-winning producer – Jamaica)

As a man born and raised in the Caribbean, I think that we are culturally oriented and strong minded. We were raised to work hard for anything we want to achieve in life. Representation matters. There is an inherent duty to make the region proud and pave the way for future generations to do even bigger things. It also comes with a distinct sense of pride and confidence because of what great things have come from the region.

We struggle a lot with being apart of a team structure, we all have a leadership mentality but we struggle with understanding that we sometimes have to be team contributors. Caribbean men tend to internalize a rigid masculine gender identity. It Starts from in the schools, more severe discipline and “toughening up”.

There has not been as great an effort to correct negative stereotypes pervasive to men having emotions and/or mental health issues and this has had a domino effect resulting in a range of negative behaviours. The attitudes are very much steeped in traditional gender roles, moulded from in homes and schools, and men are far less likely to seek help for mental health issues out of fear of looking “weak”.

It starts in the home and school environment. This requires a societal shift which can only take place over time. We need more leaders and influencers of the community to set positive examples and pave the way for future generations.

High Connection [Jhosy, Frank Design, Joe On The Beat] (Artists – Colombia)

Being part of the Caribbean means a lot, we coastal or Caribbean people identify ourselves by our joy, flavor and good energy and those three things are precisely a part of what identifies us as High Connection, that is what we try to translate into our songs and our lyrics and transmit that to the people who listen to our music.

One of the hardest adversities as men we have faced are the racial and cultural stereotypes, Caribbean / coastal men in Colombia are branded as lazy, undisciplined, and sexist. Being a man in the Caribbean is complex and much more so in Colombia. We work hard we try to break with these stereotypes through our actions and our songs.

How a man should act and show masculinity, in general, is an issue that brings many prejudices. In our culture, a man must be and show himself as strong, repress his feelings or emotions and calm his sensitivity. When a man is seen to be sensitive, his masculinity is questioned and he is excluded or discriminated against in some way – the strongest thing is that humans by nature want to please others.

Here in the Caribbean, very little is said about the mental health of men because men cannot appear vulnerable. Therefore, it can be said that the Caribbean community makes the issue of mental health invisible in the male population and does not consider it important

It is necessary to create and promote deconstruction processes to break down those prejudices that prevent men in our community from expressing their feelings. Each person, regardless of their gender, must become a safe place for the men around them to express their feelings and be vulnerable without fear of being judged, excluded or minimized.

It is also important to carry out transformation processes in families. Young children are often told not to cry. We must knock down these types of beliefs and allow our children to feel free to feel and manage their emotions in a healthy way.

Finally, it is also important that government programs include policies that guarantee access to quality and affordable mental health services. Well-being is expensive, it becomes a privilege that can only be accessed by those who are wealthy.

Words by Kalpee // Follow him on Instagram + Twitter // Watch the video for his latest single “Island Gyal” here

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