Noctis Talks: Men’s Mental Health Awareness Week with Kalpee & Others

Breaking the silence, pushing for open communication and education, a group of male music artists within the black, Caribbean community stand together and discuss their mental health experiences with the hope of opening up a vault of generations of men suffering in quiet. 

For generations now, men have been under immense pressure to keep up with the traditional ‘strong’ persona and end up withholding emotion or nay emotional expression to avoid being seen as ‘weak.’ For the Men’s Mental Health Awareness Week, artists like Kalpee, JLS’s Oritse Wiliams, Lou Lyons, J Perry, Vyzadon, Major Lazer’s Walshy Fire, and Bling Dawg discuss what can be done to better perspectives on men’s mental health. Each of them shares their interpretation of how restricting the Caribbean culture can be and how they deal with their personal struggles. 

The multi-faceted artist Kalpee is part of a new generation of Caribbean musicians pushing a fresh tropical sound aptly named ‘New Calypso,’ delivering a modern fusion of Calypso, dancehall, and reggae rhythm, laced with rock-inspired guitar riffs and supported by soulful melodies. 

Kalpee has tasted the sting of the taboo surrounding conversations about men’s mental health. It took him almost losing his life in a tragic car accident to be face-to-face with the restricting traditions and expectations of the Caribbean culture. 

Kalpee shares how crippling and life-altering was this experience on his mental health: “I really struggled with my mental health after a car accident almost took my life in 2019. The most difficult part for me was not knowing that I actually needed support, as in my head, I was just gonna get on with it and keep trying to move forward cause that’s what I’m used to doing, and that’s what’s expected as a Caribbean man. After a series of operations, including splenectomy and 8 broken ribs to contend with, when I was discharged from the hospital, no services were offered, and not even a leaflet or anything giving to be about PTS (post-traumatic stress)”. 

He continues: “When the pressure is real, it can really pull you down, and I was honestly so depressed. My anxiety was through the roof; I couldn’t sing because of my ribs and couldn’t do much of anything without assistance which is mentally hard when you are used to being so independent. I didn’t know how to express what I was feeling and also who to direct it to without making myself seem weak. Thankfully once I was physically healed, my work took me outside of Trinidad to LA and London, which is where I discovered that I had some of the most supportive people around me, who helped me get through some of the tough moments and they encouraged me to speak of my experience and open up. After months of suffering in silence, when I finally did open up, I couldn’t control my tears. It was literally like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders, and it made me realise that I really did need some help and that in other countries, help is not seen as a negative on you as a man..” 

By sharing his story, Kalpee wants to encourage others, young boys, elders, all men, to join the conversation, help each other out, and spread the word – no one should suffer in silence. Kalpee develops his stance on how men’s mental health is perceived in his community of Trinidad & Tobago: 

“I think in the Caribbean, mental health is still a relatively new topic. The younger generations, because of social media are more open to discussing it, which is amazing, but there is so much educating that needs to be done when it comes to not only mental health but in general, how we view acceptance in the Caribbean. Everything we know, is what we’ve been taught so, in my opinion, we need to learn how to open our minds, to look at difference and individualism as the blessings that it is, so that the next generation grow up with the knowledge, to view the things that usually scare us or seem so foreign to us, as normal. Therefore, they will learn how to encourage their peers, to lift each other up, and be comfortable in their own skin. It’s important that our elders in power to recognize their importance to help implement ways to educate teachers and students and the general public about mental health and mindfulness exercises that might help us to deal with the moments, that we know can be extremely challenging. The quicker we start the conversation, the quicker we put things in motion, and I think that it starts with planting the seed so that the next generation has the energy to help change things”.

It all starts at your house, your community, and your circle of friends. JLS’s Oritse Williams opens up about the role of music and dance when it came to expressing emotions at his household: “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 taboo with generations suffering in silence, but somehow a completely unfiltered burst of expression and emotion comes out in the music of our islands, that is felt by people all over the world. Music and dance have always seemed to be our way of exerting how we truly feel deep down inside. Through adversity, my family and I have always found our comfort in music.”

Lou Lyons, the co-founder and lead guitarist of the Trinidad and Tobago NeoFolk/Urban Contemporary band, Freetown Collective, offers his two cents on men’s mental health and how he takes care of his brain: “Everyone has bad days, but mental health challenges involve unique difficulties in recovering from and dealing with those bad days. As a black Caribbean man, I was conditioned to meet every situation with toughness and a hard resolve, but now I experience life more intentionally. I cope by taking care of my MIND, BODY, and SOUL”. 

“There are dynamics of Caribbean masculinity and Mental Health that remain unexplored in my experience,” Lyons says. “As someone who has had intimate experiences with Mental Health from a service POV, I understand why organizations and places of employment are unable to identify early signs of men struggling with mental health and why even when discovered, men are reluctant to willingly access any available health services to treat with Mental Health challenges until situations become extreme”. 

Lou Lyons puts forward the idea of addressing the mental health of men being a public health and safety issue, as well as suggests a list of things that can help expand the conversation:

1. The mental health of men in the workplace should be viewed as an Occupational Safety and Health issue, so at a legislative level, the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Act) can be amended to view Mental Health as a factor to be considered by employers when maintaining the safety of a work environment. 

2. At a policy level, there should be fiscal (tax) incentives to reward organizations and businesses that also offer incentives to male employees who take advantage of Mental Health programs offered or facilitated by the companies or organizations they work for. 

3. At an infrastructural level, mental health institutions, wards and clinics should appear less punitive and restrictive and more service oriented. The resemblance of these places to custodial places that fall under the criminal Justice system is a major reason why Mental Health is still associated with criminal dysfunction. 

J Perry is a Haitian singer/songwriter and composer. His input is no different. J Perry also strongly encourages open conversations in communities while staying busy as a coping mechanism: “Mental health in the Caribbean community is really important; it’s important to take care of yourself and to have these conversations with one another in our community. I take care of my mental health by keeping myself busy; I have so many hobbies. If I feel angry or upset, I get on my bike, I go for a jog, and I get outside. Of course, music is an outlet for me. It’s important to stay busy, and in the Caribbean community, it’s important for us to be able to have conversations together. A lot of times, our mental health struggles are perceived as a weakness. People who struggle are seen as lesser, and I don’t want it to be that way anymore. We have to be able to talk to each other about what we’re going through”. 

Born and raised in Trench Town, Kingston, Jamaica, musician VyzaDon talks about the role of a man in a household and the difficulty of being vulnerable: “Men are often seen as the head of the household, the glue that holds everything together, but the truth is sometimes we fall short dealing with issues of the ones we love. We forget about our wellbeing; we are not allowed to be vulnerable or weak in the eyes of society, and that becomes heavy even for the ‘strongest of a soldier.’ We must start the conversation on ‘mental health and men’ so we can collectively move forward.” 

Walshy Fire is a Jamaican American DJ, MC, and record producer who is better known as a part of the dancehall reggae-influenced group Major Lazer. He focuses on proximity in relation to men’s mental health: “I’m not a therapist, but mental health is surrounding yourself in proximity to things that only lift your frequency and energy. When you find people that are struggling, usually they’re in proximity to things that aren’t helpful. It’s all about putting yourself in the right place with the right people or with no people. Whatever you do, it’s all about proximity.” 

Kingston’s very own Bling Dawg is arguably one of the greatest lyricists in the Dancehall community. Having reached Jamaican chart success and set the way for many of your favorite Dancehall artists, Bling Dawg agrees – it all needs to start with a conversation. “Mental health is very serious in the Caribbean community. We live by that each day. It’s something serious that our community should look into. Mental health can’t always show from the outside – it’s nice to have conversations with people that you trust, with whom you can share personal things with. Most of the time, it’s things that you store inside of you that become overbearing. We need to talk more, communicate more, look at the simple things and appreciate them. For my mental health, I work out, focus on the things in my reach, and take it step by step to progress in life each day. We need to communicate more with each other to help each other.”

If you want to take something from these statements, take this – speak up. Don’t wait for other people to talk. Speak up, and say no to the silence. Be the change you want to see, and the future generations will thank you for changing the narrative. Ladies, the same goes for you. Let’s make our male friends, brothers, fathers, and partners comfortable to talk about their feelings. We can all contribute to the positive change we all so desperately need. 

Words: Karolina Kramplova