Kendrick Sampson is talking publicly about his own experience with mental health issues after the character he plays on Insecure prompted a much-needed conversation among viewers.
In the show's season three finale, the character that Sampson plays, Nathan, returns to town after having ghosted Issa (Issa Rae) earlier in the season. And, in an emotional scene, Nathan talks about his behavior. Although he doesn't use the word "depression" to excuse his unexplained absence to Issa, it seemed clear that his mental health was not in a good place when he disappeared on her.
Sampson decided to use the conversation about the episode as a jumping off point for a candid dialogue about mental health.
On Monday, he posted an emotional Instagram addressing how important the issues that his Insecure character is dealing with are to him in real life. He clarified to fans that he didn't believe mental illness was an "excuse" for the way Nathan treated Issa. "Ghosting/No communication is probably my biggest pet peeve. It really has f***** me up many times, and I’ve talked [about] that," he wrote. "But I haven’t talked a lot about my history and family history with mental health. I’m blown away by all of the articles and tweets about mental health around this last episode. That’s super encouraging!"
The actor revealed that he has a lot of people in his life with mental illness, and that he has anxiety. "Reading that last scene in the last episode really broke my heart because I know it all too well. I’ve seen it first hand with my close family, and friends," he wrote. "I have debilitating anxiety problems and I know trying to explain can be super frustrating. I’ve seen mental health problems constantly dismissed and excused in my life and in others’."
Although he goes to therapy and believes therapy can benefit anyone, Sampson acknowledged that there are barriers to mental health care for some.
"If you have depression or any sort of mental health issue, the more communication, the better, especially to the right people!" he continued. "I go to therapy. I recommend EVERYONE DO IT. At the very least, it’s someone who is legally obligated to secrecy and to focus the attention on you and help you work through issues without the guilt of only talking about your self."
But he added a significant caveat to that endorsement: "Access to therapy is a huge problem that we need to address," he said. He went on to call attention to the racial stigma and systemic disparities in mental health care in the U.S. "Mental health is largely criminalized (our prison system is the biggest mental health institution in the world – and it shouldn’t be! To be clear) and stigmatized in America and especially in communities of color," he wrote. "People of color, especially men, are not allowed to have mental illness."
Sampson explained that these major barriers to care are the reason he works with an organization called Reform L.A. Jails, which he says "pushes alternatives to incarceration for mentally ill." (On their website, the organization describes itself as "a coalition of citizens, community leaders, businesses, and organizations that recognize we need a more effective strategy to reduce recidivism, prevent crime, and permanently reduce the population of people cycling in and out of jail that are experiencing mental health, drug dependency, or chronic homelessness issues.")
Sampson is right about the lack of mental health care in imprisoned populations and black communities in the U.S.
According to a recent Bureau of Justice Statistics report that looked at data from the Bureau's 2011 to 2012 National Inmate Survey, 14 percent of prisoners and 26 percent of jail inmates experienced "serious psychological distress" in the 30 days prior to being interviewed for the survey, compared to 5 percent of the general population. Yet, people in prison receive less care. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that at least 83 percent of of jail inmates with a mental illness "did not have access to needed treatment."
There is not enough access to care in black communities either. "There are clearly big disparities in many black communities where there are fewer mental health services available," Richard S. Schottenfeld, M.D., chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Howard University College of Medicine, previously told SELF. "Compared to white Americans, black Americans not only have less access to mental health care—they’re substantially less likely to receive treatment."
There is a lot of work to be done to address these structural failures in mental health care, yes. Yet when famous people like Sampson speak up about their own experiences and shed light on these issues, it can help dissolve some of that stigma, even if just a tiny bit.