With multiple pandemics impacting the Black community, as a people, our mental health has been put at high risk. Anxiety and depression are spiking, with additional triggers igniting our childhood and systemic trauma.
“I’m sensitive to the subject,” says rapper G Herbo. We are discussing the importance of having conversations about suicide prevention in the Black community, especially during these times. “Everyone should do what it takes to wake up and be better than you were yesterday. You shouldn’t take your own life when it gets hard, because life gets hard [for] everybody.”
Herb, as he announced himself when he dialed into our conference call, is using his celebrity to break the stigma of mental health and empower the Black community through positive conversations with a mental health initiative that provides free therapy sessions and offers resources to underserved communities: Swervin’ Through Stress: Tools to Help Black Youth Navigate Mental Wellness enlisted the endorsement and attendance of other influencers and advocates, from Wale and Saweetie to psychiatrist Dr. Jessica Clemons.
As an advocate for not only mental wellness but also community outreach, G Herbo bought Overton Elementary School to create a positive learning and social environment for the community. Only a week after receiving his first platinum plaque for “PTSD” featuring Chance The Rapper, Lil Uzi Vert, and the late Juice WRLD, G Herbo shows zero signs of slowing down with his activism and philanthropy.
Highsnobiety connected with the artist ahead of Mental Health Awareness Week, to talk about his own post-traumatic ttress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis, his personal experiences with therapy, and how the hip-hop world is continuing to push forward the difficult conversation about the existence of mental health in the Black community.
Tell us about your journey with mental health. How did your upbringing in Chicago influence you?
My upbringing in Chicago, first and foremost, affected my mental health, and me as a man, in general. The circumstances, the atmosphere, and the environment that I grew up in plays a big role in your mental stability and how you function on a day-to-day basis. Because, at an early age, I started to witness and experience life on a traumatic level. I didn’t really understand it at the time, but when you experience and go through those kinds of things, it takes a toll on you. I was at an age when I couldn’t really understand how to manage it.
I was clinically diagnosed with PTSD, and I just started to embrace it. Anything in life that you go through, good or bad, that’s part of you, and you should embrace it. I started to embrace that side of me and it opened up so many doors where I can help so many people with their mental health. I [started] my own initiative, Swervin’ Through Stress, and I’m able to talk to these kids and use my platform to get an insight into them; to influence them to lean towards their fields and make themselves better with understanding that they, too, may be suffering from a mental health issue.
Tell us more about the Swervin’ Through Stress initiative. What was the objective and inspiration behind it?
It was originally a way for me to connect with the youth and try to dig into the brains of these kids so people could understand the way they experience trauma. It’s not being treated in these schools, [where the kids are] around adults and professionals who are aware of these things but don’t try to treat the problem, even though they see these kids every single day.
Where I come from, we all were cursed with a sense of people not really caring about you, while feeling like you need assistance or you need somebody to talk to. That’s what Swervin’ Through Stress was. It was initially supposed to be 150 kids, but it went to 1,000 kids when we announced it. That lets you know that a lot of these kids want an outlet; they just don’t have one.
Speaking of PTSD, let’s talk about your album, which was released after you were clinically diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. When you were first diagnosed, what were your initial thoughts and feelings?
I didn’t dwell too much on it because I always felt like I was "normal." I didn’t really think [anything] was wrong with me, but it all made sense as to why I behave the way I do. It’s important to embrace it and lean towards it, so I can keep functioning on a day-to-day basis and not let none of these things affect me in a negative light.
What influenced your initial decision to go to therapy? What was your first experience like and how have your feelings about therapy evolved over time?
I went to therapy for the first time [when] my lawyer actually recommended me to go, because I was fighting a case in Chicago. It was a weapons charge, and I was being completely honest with my lawyer; I just told her one day, “I’ve been in fear of my life since I was 15-years-old. I never felt like it was okay for me to leave out of the house without a gun.” It gave her more insight on my personal life and the things I’ve been through, and she told me to go to therapy. Her argument in court for me wasn’t necessarily, “he didn’t have a gun on him,” but it was more so why it was needed or “why he felt the need to have a gun.”
That’s how I ended up in therapy. It wasn’t always about my life and growing up in a violent environment; it was just a way for me to learn more about myself. I talked to her about a lot of personal stuff, me being a father, a lot of things that still take a toll and play a part in how I function mentally. Therapy was good for me.
What stigmas do you currently see in the Black community against mental health disorders and mental health issues?
The stigma that I do see in the Black community [is] we bottle our emotions in, and we don’t really communicate with each other or acknowledge the problem. It’s not really common in the Black community for men to feel or grieve. We have to change the attitude, so it’s okay to want to feel better in a situation, or make yourself feel better. Because, where I come from, a lot of these situations are real fucked up.
Being a highly respected figure in the entertainment community, how does your status as a celebrity and well-known artist impact your mental health?
I think I do a really good job with not letting fame or anything impact my mental stability, or me in general. But with being famous it helps, and there are a lot of people going through the same things that you go through. People think fame gives you some kind of superpower; I’m still a regular person. I still feel and have emotions. When we embrace it and speak on it, it makes us a lot more relatable to regular people, because at the end of the day, we are regular people. We just have money and fame; that’s the only thing that separates us from the rest of the world. We still have problems, we have family, we still die and cry — the same shit.
How have you seen hip-hop assist in developing positive conversation around mental health in the Black community?
We’re starting to understand it more now and people are starting to wake up. Everywhere around the country, we got hoods and ghettos, therefore we’re all going through a lot of the same things. When you circle it all around mental health, all of these artists [and] people of stature speak more on it because it’s a sensitive subject and necessary for the people. I think we just didn’t understand what mental health really was, what it meant and how it affected all of us growing up. That’s why people are speaking on it a lot more, because we’re all affected by it.
When it comes to the younger generation, how do you believe society should do a better job at destigmatizing mental health in Black and brown communities and allowing children to feel more comfortable with having these conversations with peers and adults?
With things like Swervin’ Through Stress and us leading by example. The kids only know what they’ve been taught. [With] a kid who’s 12, 13, or 18 years old who’s been told all their life to fend for themselves, when they get in these situations and people attack them mentally or physically, they snap right back into those instincts, because that’s all that they’ve been taught. They don’t want to open up and they don’t want to express themselves because they’ve been taught that people will use that against them. We have to change the cycle to show that we want to know these things and help in a positive way for effective change. We have to show, not with just talking, but actually show what they can see and feel that it could get better for them. It’s that simple.