Though seemingly unrelated, lung cancer and poor mental health share some sobering characteristics for black people: Both contribute to higher death rates than those seen in other populations.
Black men have the highest rates of lung cancer in the nation, though members of the black community, on average, begin smoking later in life than whites do, and we smoke fewer cigarettes per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cancer is the second-highest cause of death among black people; heart disease is the first.
At the extreme end of poor mental health, suicide was the second leading cause of death for black people ages 15 to 24 in 2017 (though not specifically males). Yet the death by suicide rate for black men was more than four times greater than for black women in the same year, according to the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In an effort to change those numbers, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., is focusing on both areas for its 2020-2021 health and wellness initiative. Stephen Broughton, M.D., a psychiatrist based in Pine Bluffs, Arkansas, is chair.
According to Dr. Broughton, a number of socioeconomic factors are involved in health disparities, not necessarily what could look like genetic predisposition. People, no matter their ethnicity, with lower levels of education and living below the poverty line smoke at higher rates, according to the CDC. Inequities around access to care and information, which do fall along racial lines, contribute to the problem.
Right now, though, the bigger push for the organization’s initiative is improving the mental health of its brothers and the larger black community.
“I’d advocated for this for several years,” Dr. Broughton said. “We decided on it before we had a pandemic crisis and the [recent] Black Lives Matter movement. Now the amount of stress has gone up tremendously. The brothers have been calling saying, ‘You really nailed it.’”
Antonio Martez, who works in technology sales and health management in Atlanta, is vice chair. He said that the organization typically disseminates health information through discussions and panels—and conducts screenings for indicators of poor health, such as blood pressure, body-mass index and glucose—at their national and regional conferences. With those events cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, he and Dr. Broughton are moving the effort online. Local chapters are also encouraged to act in response to their specific community’s needs.
Martez said that, stereotypically, men don’t feel the need to go to a doctor. “Our objective is to educate. Nothing is too small to ask a question about,” he said. “It’s why we pay for insurance.
“When we hear a weird noise under the hood of the car, we go to a mechanic.”
Dr. Broughton said education about good physical and mental health should be coupled with care. “I am my brother’s keeper. Check on your brothers. Let them know we’re here and we care.”