The singer’s attempts to share his mental health story reflect the progress we still need to make when it comes to men’s mental health

By Alejandro Ramos

Last month, singer T-Pain made headlines by revealing that he fell into a years-long depression after Usher made negative comments about his music.

“Usher was my friend,” T-Pain said. “I really respect Usher. And he was like ‘Man. I’m gonna tell you something, man. You kinda f—ed up music.’ ”

“I thought he was joking at first, but then he was like, ‘Yeah man you really f—ed up music for real singers.’”

This shocked the world and had people buzzing on social media, including myself. I had always wondered why T-Pain, one of my favorite artists of all time, stopped making music. As I looked more into this story and what T-Pain was up to over the past decade, I realized there was so much more to the story.

This wasn’t the first time T-Pain tried to share how negative comments and press affected him. He did an interview with the New Yorker in 2014 where he talked about the backlash he faced from other artists for using auto-tune. At the same time, other artists like Kanye West and Future were getting critical acclaim for using the same tools he used without any of the consequences.

The State of Mental Health for Men

In short, this is the tale of a man creating art in a way that made him happy only to be ridiculed while having his signature style stolen from him. As a fellow artist, I feel for him. The last thing you want to hear is a derogatory comment about the art that you worked so hard for, especially from someone to respect and look up to.

The part that stuck with me is how he kept quiet for so many years and then was ignored when he tried to tell his story. This is an all too familiar experience for men. We’re less likely to open up about our mental and emotional struggles out of fear of shame and ignorance. We tell ourselves it’s okay and that we’ll figure out a way to get through it.

When I take a step back and follow this thread, I see how men become the way they are. Society shames us into becoming stoic, strong men whose only emotional release is anger and frustration. This is something I’ve been working on unlearning in my own life. I’m leaning more into the things that bring me joy and steering away from the idea, the goal of being an “ideal man”. That box is too small for me. It’s too small for all of us!

Unlearning Toxic Habits

Still, I’m working against nearly three decades of conditioning. There are plenty of situations where I fall back into the stereotypes I’m trying to undo. Here are a few of the steps I’ve found helpful on this journey:

  1. Have a support system. Whether it’s your group of friends, a family member you trust, or your partner. Have a conversation with them about how they can support you in times of crisis. If you’re interested, PEERS has a couple of support groups available for different communities.
  2. Take note of how you react to situations. This could be from things that make you happy to those that make you upset. That way you can learn to recognize bad situations right away and address them.
  3. Speak up directly. Use simple language if you have to. It’s hard for me to articulate myself when I’m upset. That’s why I keep my words as simple as possible and even follow a script I made for myself. “I feel upset right now and need some space.” That’s all you need to say.

This is a journey that’s going to take time, though. My goal is to learn how to be my favorite self and inspire others to do the same. 

I can’t speak for T-Pain and how he’s doing. He seems to be doing better than he has in years. He’s back in the limelight with a couple of song features and a popular Twitch channel. I’m happy for him and I’m glad people heard him when he shared his story this time around. That’s a testament to the progress society has made when it comes to mental health. I’m inspired by his growth and I hope the rest of you are too.

Alejandro Ramos is the Media & Communications Coordinator for PEERS. He is passionate about mental health issues, especially among men and men of color.