Essay

How Insecure Helped Me Open Up About My Mental Health

"Nathan’s struggle with mental health mirrored and affirmed my own experience as a Black, Southern transplant who left home to achieve my dreams."

By Eric Ford January 28, 2022

Nathan (Kendrick Sampson) and Issa (Issa Rae) in season 5 episode 9 of Insecure on HBO.

Sundays have not been the same since the series finale of Insecure on HBO. In five critically acclaimed seasons, the series provided a much-needed representation of modern-day friendships, relationships, and mental health within the Black community. 

Executive produced, created by and starring Issa Rae, the dramatic comedy is set in Los Angeles and orbits the friendship between two Black women, Issa Dee (played by show creator Rae) and Molly Carter (Yvonne Orji) as they navigate life, love, and their careers. Each season brought a weekly roundtable on social media, where a collective of Black voices watched, and discussed as a family, to decipher the many nuances connected to our real-life journeys. 

A crucial component of Insecure’s success is seen in the range of Black male characters and the handling of their personal experiences, like Nathan Campbell, played by Houston-born actor and activist Kendrick Sampson. Nathan is a charming, adventurous and handsome Southern transplant (also from H-Town) living and working in Los Angeles as a barber. His character broke a pop-cultural barrier around mental health in the show's third season when, after ghosting Issa and temporarily retreating to Texas, he returns to reveal that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

As a Houston native and New York City transplant, I truly connected with Nathan’s journey navigating a new and unfamiliar place. Oftentimes, people categorize mental illness within the Black community as a lack of determination, drive, and perseverance, which is internalized into a form of disapproval and unworthiness by those who suffer from bipolar disorder and depression.

Nathan’s struggle with mental health mirrored and affirmed my own experience as a Black, Southern transplant who left home to achieve my dreams, but struggled with feeling at home in my new environment. 

In the fifth and final season, audiences get a deeper insight into Nathan’s battle with bipolar disorder and the effects of his mental health in his relationships. A heated interaction with his coworker shows how he managed his temper. Similarly, a conversation with his cousin unraveled the effects of his sudden departure and his initial period of mania strained his connection to the only family he has in the city. These particular antidotes played a role within his relationship with Issa, as his actions to work on himself became less important to being everything Issa needed. Nathan’s growth in the final season was rewarding as we saw him choose himself over the tumultuous relationships in their relationship. He prioritized his happiness and committed himself to his own journey which prompted him to break up with Issa. 

When I first left Houston and moved to New York City, I had high hopes about my journey. I thought things would immediately fall into place, so when issues started to arise, I was devastated. I swept many of my bad experiences under the rug to be more attentive to others in my life. Like Nathan, I spent a period caring more for others than myself. From dealing with family drama to not knowing where I was living next, or falling short of landing a dream job, my experience has brought immense challenges. 

During an episode of the Insecure Wine Down after-show, Sampson shared his thoughts on the themes of mental health addressed in the show, stating that it was “important for [Nathan] to have [bipolar disorder] as a discussion, a conversation starter.” He went on to assert that if we continue to amplify conversations about mental health in the Black community, we can eventually destigmatize the fear of being open about the care we need. 

Sampson's portrayal of this character was within the tropes of finding your community, working on yourself, and the power of faith to keep going. But these discussions about mental health are a crucial pathway to dissect the roots of our trauma and lead to our growth. 

 


The full Insecure series is available to stream on HBO. For more information, visit here.

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