The co-authors' book about the reclamation of Black men's mental health will release on November 7
Courtney B. Vance and Dr. Robin L. Smith are advocating for their community’s well-being in their new book The Invisible Ache: Black Men Identifying Their Pain and Reclaiming Their Power.
Vance, the Tony and Emmy-Award winning actor, known for his roles in Nora Ephron’s Lucky Guy, FX series The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, and 61st Street, now set to air on The CW Network, and Smith, bestselling author and former “Therapist-in-Residence” on The Oprah Winfrey Show, “seek to change the discourse around mental health for Black men,” according to an announcement from the book’s publisher.
“We have to find a way to [experience] joy,” Vance told PEOPLE in a recent interview. “It's a part of life, that death is a part of life, and pain is a part of life, and suffering is a part of life. The question is, what are we going to do?”
The Invisible Ache, also written with Charisse Jones, incorporates aspects of memoir, psychology and self-help, and creates a guidebook for Black men to navigate mental health struggles and embrace their full selves. It is a response to systemic issues within the Black community, in which overall health, including mental health, can be affected by factors like institutional racism and socioeconomic failings.
“These stressors have led to skyrocketing rates of depression, anxiety, and reliance on prescription drugs just within the past decade,” the announcement states. “Overall, Black individuals face worse mental health outcomes than any other demographic.”
Vance first connected with Dr. Smith, a licensed psychologist, when the former’s godson died by suicide in 2020 (Vance’s father also died by suicide decades earlier.) Vance’s team recommended Smith to help tell his story, and the two worked together to develop the book’s educational, yet empathetic, style.
“What we want [the book] to do is allow people to find themselves in Courtney's story,” Smith told PEOPLE. “But most importantly, [we want to] equip people with how to extricate themselves from…the emotional shackles and prisons that Black men and boys have been placed into.”
Literature has long played an integral part in Vance’s life (his first book, entitled Friends: A Love Story, was published in 2009 and co-authored with his wife Angela Bassett and writer Hilary Beard.) He credits his mother, Leslie, a former librarian, as another inspiration behind The Invisible Ache, both for promoting a love of literacy and for encouraging him to go to therapy. The lessons Vance learned echo throughout the book.
“That's what we have to recognize, that we may not be able to see our way [clearly], but there is a path, there is a way,” he stated. “And if we just give ourselves over to it, we can do more. That's why this story…is one story of many that potentially could save a life.”
The Invisible Ache is “a vital and urgent response to the trauma that haunts so many Black boys and men, and a resource for those who love them and are committed to their overall health and wellbeing,” according to its publisher. It is also a celebration of joy and vulnerability amidst an often covert mental health crisis; a nod to the book's title. Dr. Smith emphasizes the importance of these acts as a right, not a privilege.
“A part of reclaiming your power as a Black man is to have no shame about the pain,” Smith said. “I really want to remind your readers and our readers and the world that there's no shame in pain.”
The Invisible Ache will be published by Balance, an imprint of Grand Central Publishing, on November 7.
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