The YBMen@EMU Project was completed with 22 men at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
The Young Black Men, Masculinities, and Mental Health (YBMen) Project is a Facebook-based health education and social support intervention that uses gender-and culturally-relevant prompts from popular culture and social media (e.g., song lyrics, images, YouTube videos) to educate Black men about the individual and collective importance of their mental health, their definitions of masculinity/manhood, and engaging in social support.
The YBMen Project was created for young Black men who are unlikely to discuss their mental health face-to-face; who have not been diagnosed with a mental health issue; and who desire social support in a safe and non-threatening environment. Developed by Dr. Daphne C. Watkins, Professor of Social Work at the University of Michigan, the YBMen Project serves as a mechanism through which we can learn about the strategies that influence and shape young Black men’s ideas and experiences with mental health, masculinity/manhood, and social support.
What We Did
Implementing the YBMen Project at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) was made possible by several people who were committed to improving the mental health and well-being of young Black men at EMU. These efforts began when the YBMen Project team from the University of Michigan visited EMU during the 2015-2016 academic year to recruit Black male students for a survey. During that time, the YBMen Project team learned about the BrotherHOOD Initiative and their efforts aimed at recruiting and retaining Black male students at EMU. Inspired by the work being done at EMU through the BrotherHOOD Initiative, the YBMen Project team decided to tailor an iteration of the YBMen Facebook intervention specifically for the Black men at EMU to be implemented in the fall of 2016. Dr. Watkins and her team visited EMU multiple times that year and worked with Dr. Raul Leon, Associate Professor at EMU and Program Director for the BrotherHOOD Initiative, to make their plans come to fruition. By participating in various activities that year, including the BrotherHOOD orientation and the barbershops, Dr. Watkins, Dr. Leon, and their team of UM and EMU staff and students identified 22 Black men at EMU to enroll in the YBMen Project during the 2016-2017 academic year.
As the BrotherHOOD Program Director, Dr. Leon assisted the YBMen Project team in meeting with the BrotherHOOD participants, gauging their interest, and screening them for eligibility for the YBMen Project. The YBMen Project team from UM had fruitful interactions with the faculty, staff, and students at EMU. By implementing the YBMen Project at EMU, our aim was to help improve the mental health and well-being of the Black male students on campus. We also wanted to teach Black male students about progressive masculinities and the importance of social support as they face various life transitions and trajectories.
Why We Used Two Groups
We recruited two different groups for the YBMen Project at Eastern Michigan University (EMU): the intervention group (or “Facebook group”) and the comparison group (or “nonFacebook group”). We decided to place participants into two groups because we wanted to compare young Black men in the Facebook group to men in the non-Facebook group to see if their mental health, masculinity/manhood, and social support (measured by the surveys and interviews) changed: (a) from Time 1 to Time 2, and (b) for men who participated in the YBMen Facebook group (i.e., the intervention group) versus those who did not (i.e., the comparison group). To do this, we collected surveys from all 22 Black male participants before the YBMen Facebook intervention and immediately after the Facebook intervention. We also interviewed all 22 participants before the YBMen Facebook intervention and immediately after the Facebook intervention to learn more about their experiences and pressures and their thoughts about the YBMen Project. Eleven participants were placed into the YBMen Facebook group, and the remaining 11 were placed into the non-Facebook group.
The BrotherHOOD (Helping Others Obtain Degrees) Initiative is an EMU initiative designed to engage, empower, retain and graduate more males of color. Through collaborative partnerships with offices throughout the university, the BrotherHOOD employs a success-driven approach to help males of color develop as students and as men. All the participants in the YBMen Project at EMU during Fall 2016 were freshman participants in the BrotherHOOD.Twenty-two members of the BrotherHOOD Initiative at EMU participated in the YBMen Project during Fall 2016. All participants were between the ages of 18 and 24. At the beginning of the project:
- 100% were 18-24 years old.
- 50% were employed, in addition to attending college.
- 20% were married or had a significant other.
Responses to Our Questions
Quotes from Participants when we discussed MENTAL HEALTH:
“…when I battle my demons, I tend to keep to myself ‘cause I don’t want to bother; or, put my hurt onto someone else.”
“…it’s the stress of just being a Black men in general. You know, we’re targeted everywhere.”
“I guess, there’s like a stigma like you shouldn’t be allowed to release your emotions as a Black man. You can’t cry and stuff like that.”
Quotes from Participants when we discussed MASCULINITY/MANHOOD:
“Being masculine to the Black men in my life is everything.”
“I feel like, what it means to be a man is, never giving up, never showing fear, never showing failure, you know?”
“…you’re Black and you’re a man and everybody has a stereotype about you from the day that you are born… that we’re aggressive … people look at us like we’re selling drugs and we go out and we shoot people … And we have a lot of potential behind us but they just look at our skin color rather than what we have to offer.”
Quotes from Participants when we discussed SOCIAL SUPPORT:
“…some Black men don’t have a support system and some do. And [the] majority of different races have a support system, and it seems like — they stick together more [than Black men do].”
“…[after losing a loved one, I talked to]… my success coach. He’s one of my teachers, and he’s part of BrotherHOOD, and I talked to him about it.”
“Even if we know, say for example, if we’re here on campus and we’re always being instructed about this and that but we’re stubborn and we feel like we’re going to be misunderstood so we won’t seek out help.”
Quotes from Participants when we discussed THE YBMEN FACEBOOK INTERVENTION:
“I feel like it was a good program, and it got like good like conversations started… because of what they post.”
“…Besides this community, I haven’t been in a community of Black dudes that really supported each other mentally… and really cared about each other’s minds.”
“I liked [the YBMen Facebook group]. I like… the conversational pieces you guys brought in. I like the fact that you guys discuss Kid Cudi and his mental health issues… you guys use[d] different TV shows, like Power… I like that because it kinda helps us start a conversation about things…”
The YBMen@EMU Project Evaluated:
- Depression scores before, during, and after the Facebook intervention
- Masculinity/manhood scores before, during, and after the Facebook intervention
- Social support scores before, during, and after the Facebook intervention
For the young Black men at EMU who participated in the YBMen Facebook group:
- Depression scores increased*
- Masculinity/manhood scores decreased, and
- Social support scores remained about the same
*After reviewing these findings alongside the one-on-one interviews with the young Black male participants, we believe the higher depressive symptom scores post-intervention (Time 2) should raise awareness about the importance of addressing mental health with Black men at EMU amidst the racial and political tensions associated with Black men and other men of color that have been featured in local, regional, and national news.