Unapologetically Black, Male and Bipolar

Rwenshaun Miller


Rwenshaun Miller is dedicated to making mental health treatment accessible to males of color.

‘All of my life, for my own safety, I was taught not to share my emotions. As black males in America, we have to wear masks just to step outside our homes if we want to feel safe. We can’t be too loud or too boisterous. We always have to be conscious of our surroundings. If I’m loud or angry, I could be seen as a threat, and that could so easily lead to me losing my life, as it has for so many African Americans. We are not always seen as human beings, so it’s easy for some to just take us out.”  

More than just describing his life as an African-American male, Rwenshaun Miller is describing why the process of being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder was so difficult. He didn’t know how to recognize and acknowledge that he even had a problem. 

“I’m black and male. I’m not allowed to express my emotions. I was taught to suck it up because I’m male. As African-American males, we can’t express emotions. It helps to keep us safe.”  

Rwenshaun was sick, but to treat the illness, he had to overcome lifelong teachings that had now become ingrained. How does one fight survival instincts? He didn’t know how.  

“I was drinking a fifth of Tequila every other day for three years. My first two suicide attempts were with pills, and the last was with a gun. I put a gun to my head and pulled the trigger and it jammed on me.” Surprisingly, he chuckles. “I told myself: ‘Son, you need to get better. You need to get back to therapy, get back on meds, and get better.’”  

“My initial onset of symptoms came when I injured my knee. I had knee surgery and it got to the point where I wouldn’t leave my dorm room … I wouldn’t talk to anyone. I didn’t sleep for two weeks and I lost about 25 pounds over a period of six weeks. My mother noticed the difference in my voice during phone conversations and my family came and got me and took me to the hospital.”  

He didn’t fully embrace the treatment plan that included medication and therapy, abandoning it to go back to school earlier than he should have, and the next three years were spent self-medicating with Tequila and ended with the last suicide attempt and his revelation. He went back into treatment, and it was having an African-American male therapist that helped him learn how to be vulnerable and began to heal.  

In 2006, three years before the epiphany described above took place, Rwenshaun, now a counselor, a mental health advocate and an TCSPP international psychology student, had been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and given a treatment plan while an undergrad playing track and football at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

“Seeing someone like Dr. Kendall Jackson, someone who looked like me and talked like me, allowed me to be comfortable in the situation.”  

As he started to get better and understand the field a bit more, Rwenshaun learned that there weren’t a lot of black therapists practicing. He determined that he would become a therapist, but wanting to get involved as soon as possible, he began working in group homes and community support – positions that helped him to understand the importance of being able to share his story and gave him a view of the clinical component.

“I saw what was needed. I began to see the gaps in care, treatment and awareness. I saw what we don’t know about mental health challenges and how they present in the black community.” 

He began Eustress, Inc. in 2013 to raise awareness around mental health. What began as a walk to raise awareness in Charlotte, NC has grown into an organization that gives scholarships to young, black men pursuing a degree in counseling, psychology or social work, hosts three annual awareness walks and hosts events across the country – events that make the idea of mental health more accessible and less daunting. 

“We host Adult Coloring Nights, men’s yoga classes, weekly conference calls where men can call in just to talk about different mental health topics and build a community,” Rwenshaun explains. “These are stress relievers. Coloring is a therapeutic tool that can be used on a daily basis. These are tools that can supplement therapy.”  

Rwenshaun also has a private practice in Charlotte where he says 95% of his clientele are males of color. In partnership with a nonprofit, he offers free counseling to 7th and 8th graders at a local middle school, as well as to their teachers and families. “The goal is not only to help the students address their needs, but help their support system address their needs as well. I want to change the entire ecosystem of how mental health is viewed.”  

“We need to understand that mental health challenges can happen to any of us. Don’t be ashamed to talk about the issues you have going on because I’m pretty sure there’s someone out there dealing with some of the same things. Once you start to talk, you can build community, build a support system and then you don’t have to do it alone.”

Reblogged from Original Source: INSIGHT-The Chicago School of Professional Psychology Newsletter


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