Charlamagne Tha God is not new to using his personal platform to amplify awareness around mental health in the Black community. He’s doubling down on those efforts with his new initiative, the Mental Wealth Alliance.
Launching today, MWA is a “forward-thinking foundation created to destigmatize, accelerate, and center state-of-the-art mental health outreach and care across the U.S. while building an unprecedented long-term system of generational support for Black communities.” Its goal is to raise $100 million over the course of five years and to partner with Black-led organizations and experts to lead the charge in destigmatizing mental health.
“I hope getting these brothers and sisters to go to therapy makes them realize the things that they’re going through, whether it’s panic attacks, depression, anxiety or PTSD, these are normal things,” the Breakfast Club co-host told For(bes) The Culture.
MWA will provide free pre-therapy services to more than 10 million Black Americans over the next five years. “There’s reasons why you have these triggers that cause these things to happen,” Charlamagne Tha God adds. “Once you get the language, that helps to normalize it and helps you feel normal.”
Ahead of the launch, For(bes) The Culture spoke to Charlamagne Tha God exclusively about celebrating the launch of MWA, the importance of mental health and the evolution of his personal mental health journey.
For(bes) The Culture: Tell me about the Mental Wealth Alliance and what inspired it.
Charlamagne Tha God: The Mental Wealth Alliance was inspired by the work that I’ve already been doing, which I didn’t even realize was work. A few years ago I started telling people about how I’ve dealt with anxiety, bouts of depression. [I started] therapy sessions and putting those therapy sessions in a book, Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks On Me. I put that book out and didn’t even look back because truth be told, I wasn’t even truly comfortable with having those conversions yet. I never expressed those things I was feeling in public settings like that. I went from not really speaking about it at all to every now and then to being on Dr. Phil or something talking about it. That’s giving me panic attacks in itself.
Next thing I know, people are coming up to me in the streets saying they started going to therapy because of me. People are telling me thank you for talking about my anxiety because those are feelings that they’ve had. You kind of become a mental health advocate without even trying. I remember the first time somebody announced me as that and I was like, ‘I’m not a mental health advocate.’ It was like, ‘Yes, you are, whether you want to be or not.’ Then you have other people like Taraji P. Henson, Tracie Jade and Brandon Marshall, and it just felt like a light started shining in the culture. People just started coming out of the shadows like, ‘Hey, I’m dealing with it, too.’ The MWA is the evolution of all of that. There’s nothing that I’m doing that fulfills me more [or] gives me a greater sense of purpose than doing this work. Why not create a foundation so I can really elevate the work in a real way?
For(bes) The Culture: What will providing free pre-therapy resources to more than 10 million Black people do for the community, in terms of normalizing therapy?
Charlamagne Tha God: It’ll normalize it by letting people know it’s OK to not be OK. When I first got diagnosed with anxiety, it was 2010 and I always tell this story: I was back home living with my mom in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, I had just gotten fired for the fourth time from radio, my daughter was two-years-old, my now-wife was living back home with her parents and I just started collecting unemployment checks. I’m driving down I-26 in South Carolina and I felt that feeling I felt so many times in my life before: Chest getting tight, breathing getting short but heavy, clutching my chest like I’m about to have a heart attack – again. I went to the doctor the next day and the doctor told me what all doctors told me when I checked myself into the emergency room for that same feeling throughout my life: ‘You’ve got an athlete’s heart. You’re fine.’
But that doctor said, ‘Do you suffer from anxiety?,’ and that’s the first time I ever heard that. I’m like, ‘No, what is anxiety?,’ and he said, ‘It sounds like you suffered from a panic attack. Are you stressed about anything?’ I said, ‘Hell yeah!’ When I got that language, in my mind, all I had to do was get another job and everything will be fine. Five years later, and the next job I got was The Breakfast Club. I’m having more success and money than I’ve ever had in my life, but I’m still having those panic attacks and those feelings. I started having those conversations with those people I knew were in therapy and they would talk to me about it. The stuff that they would talk to me about sounded very similar and when I started going to therapy, I started to get the language and understand that what I was dealing with was pretty normal. It’s not something that people don’t go through. It’s just like any other ailment you may have; you just gotta know how to treat it and take care of yourself while you’re dealing with it.
For(bes) The Culture: Let’s talk about the three major pillars of life-changing impact: train, teach and treat. Can you expand upon these?
Charlamagne Tha God: The training aspect is as far as what we want to do in the mental healthcare space. We want to increase that 3% [of Black board-certified psychiatrists] because we need culturally competent people in that field. The craziest thing is when you’re Black and you sit down with somebody who doesn’t understand where you’re coming from. How can you properly teach or help somebody when you don’t know where they’re coming from? The treatment part is providing the therapy for 10 million Black people over the next five years. Getting people trained and teaching is the curriculum aspect of it all and getting that social and emotional learning into the schools. Getting some type of bill passed where this has to be in the Black community. If you tackle those three Ts, I think it’ll be game changing for our community.
For(bes) The Culture: How have you seen the pandemic, the election cycle and the tragic events in the Black community impact the mental health of Black Americans?
Charlamagne Tha God: I’ve never had more people call me, FaceTime me or text me saying, ‘Yo, bro, I’m ready to talk to somebody.’ Everybody’s sitting at home and having to deal with themselves all the time. There’s a lot of people who are just seeing themselves for the first time and they might not necessarily like what they see. I had one friend in particular who I love and miss dearly Jasmine Waters, and Jas was somebody who I bonded with on a million different things, but it was definitely on the fact that we both dealt with anxiety and bouts of depression. She handled the language way earlier than I did; she got diagnosed when she was 19 so she went to therapy for years.
She’s one of many who didn’t make it out last year. It got too unbearable for her and when she did what she did, that made me think that I really had to lean into this work. I really gotta get this foundation off the ground and assist as many people as I possibly can because she was someone who had the language, was doing the work and still couldn’t handle it. It’s been heavy for a lot of different people but it pushed a lot of people to the edge in a negative and positive way. The negative way where people feel like they can’t take it anymore and they take their life; the positive way is where people push themselves to a point and finally say, ‘I gotta go get some help and finally talk to a therapist.’ Give people grace.
For(bes) The Culture: How has your self-discovery journey in mental wellness evolved between the release of Shook One in 2018 and the launch of MWA?
Charlamagne Tha God: I was just telling my story and I was just being transparent like I attempt to do all the time, but therapy has taught me how to be more vulnerable. I am an empath, but it made me have more grace with humans. I always say to give people the grace that you want God to give you and if that’s too much, just give people the grace you’d want for yourself. I know for a fact there are many things that have probably changed about me, especially when it comes to my approach on the radio, how I talk to people, and how I talk about people because everybody’s fighting battles that we know nothing about.
Everybody’s simply doing the best they can and a lot of people have not figured it out. A lot of people aren’t where I am as far as doing the work on myself so you’ve got to give people grace when it comes to that. Over the last three years, I think that’s been the biggest evolution of having more compassion and constantly learning. Not just learning more languages but learning more techniques and practices to stay mentally healthy.