Abstract: Black Boys Perceptions of Depression and Mental Health: Findings from the Ybmen Project (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Black Boys Perceptions of Depression and Mental Health: Findings from the Ybmen Project

Sunday, January 19, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 7, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Ed-Dee Williams, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, MI
Daphne Watkins, PhD, Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI

A growing amount of research has been dedicated to investigating the mental health of Black boys. Despite this growth, little work has taken the time to investigate Black boys’ experiences with mental health challenges, much less their perceptions and understanding of mental health conditions such as depression. This study reports findings from the baseline data from a social media based intervention that investigates Black boys’ perceptions of mental health and depression.  The Young Black Men, Masculinities, and Mental health (YBMen) project intervention disseminates popular and urban cultural media references, via social media to educate Black boys’ about mental health, social support, and masculinity for young Black males. The goal is not only to expand participants’ understanding of these topics, but also to foster on-going conversations between participants about these topics.


A focus group was held with fifteen (n=18) 8th grade Black boys at a middle school in Southeast, Michigan. Using a semi-structured interview protocol the participants were asked open-ended questions pertaining to their perceptions and familiarities with mental health and depression, views of manhood, and experiences with social support. The group was co-facilitated by two Black men. Thematic analysis was used as a rigorous analytic method to identify explicit and implicit concepts in the data that focused on the boys’ perceptions of mental health and depression. The authors reviewed the focus group transcripts and established themes based on the boys’ responses.


Several themes emerged from the focus group data. First, the boys largely identified mental health as being an (1) organic condition that individuals have no control over. The second identified theme was (2) the separation of depression and mental health. This leads to the third theme, (3) depression and stress. The boys overwhelmingly agreed that stress causes depression. A final emerging theme was (4) the framing of depression as a “girls condition”. Many of the boys when asked about Black men they may know that have experienced depression, instead described girls and women as more commonly performing their defined symptoms of depression.

Discussion and Implications:

Findings from this study highlight the importance of expanding mental health education for Black boys. Though the boys could speak to many of the symptoms of depression, such as feelings of hopelessness, random feelings of sadness, self-isolation, and difficulty getting out of bed, the boys did not recognize depression as an ongoing pervasive condition. It was defined as an experience of temporary despair due to an unforeseen circumstance. Additionally, there is a need for more rigorous qualitative research investigating Black boys perceptions, experiences, and understanding of mental health.