Mental Health in the Age of Black Lives Matter

June 30, 2020
Avighna Suresh

As our world absorbs the harsh realities of bigotry and racism present against members of the black community, especially in light of the tragic murders of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Oluwatoyin Salau, and many, many more, let us remember this: racism and mental health are intersectional, and those who support taking care of mental health should support being actively anti-racist. 

First, it’s crucial to understand what exactly “intersectionality” is when examining mental health’s relation to racism. Merriam Webster defines intersectionality as “the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.” If you’ve been to one of the recent Black Lives Matter protests or seen images of the recent protests online, you may have seen signs like “Black Trans Lives Matter,” signs with statistics of black homelessness in the United States, or even ones with “Black Mental Health Matters.” It’s important to remember that racism isn’t an isolated issue, it’s one that influences and is influenced by many others. 

It’s important to remember that racism isn’t an isolated issue, it’s one that influences and is influenced by many others. 

Racism is well-known to increase psychological trauma. Many non-white groups experience higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, as compared to their white counterparts even when racial trauma is often underrecognized. An article by the American Psychological Association states, “racial trauma can result from major experiences of racism such as workplace discrimination or hate crimes, or it can be the result of an accumulation of many small occurrences, such as everyday discrimination and microaggressions.” But the psychiatric disparities don’t stop at race-related trauma. The black community suffers from an overall increased rate of mental health concerns (estimates show that the black community is about 20% more likely to suffer from a psychiatric condition), especially in anxiety and depression related directly to the lack of access to affordable and culturally responsive mental health care as well as the inherent systemic racism towards the black community in healthcare. 

Accessibility and systemic discrimination bars many from being able to get the help they need. Mental health disparities that affect the black community include inequitable access, diagnosis, and treatment, and overall, more severe symptoms. Among adults with the same diagnosed mental health or addiction issue, 37.6% of White patients received treatment, while only 25% of African American patients did. Fighting for racial equality means fighting for equality in mental health care, and supporting black lives means supporting black mental health and recognizing racial trauma.

Supporting black lives means supporting black mental health and recognizing racial trauma.

As a non-black person of color living in the United States, I can only speak from my own perspective as a member of the non-black community and for those with the same perspective as me. I often find myself uneducated about a lot of things that the black community faces, and from the outside in, it’s no doubt a lot to internalize. Putting energy into having difficult conversations with others, reading up on how I can be a good ally to the black community, and consciously rethinking my biases to being actively anti-racist can, at times, be overwhelming--and it’s a lot more to bear knowing that what I’m only reading about is an everyday reality for many black people. And so the question arises: what can I do to support my own mental health while fighting for racial equality, and how can I support the black community and their mental health as well?

When supporting yourself and others while fighting for equality and justice, here are a few things you can keep in mind and implement. 

1. Validate your feelings

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed, and it doesn’t mean your efforts in this fight are any less valuable or effective. It’s okay not to be okay, especially when facing realities as harsh as these. If you’ve faced racial or secondary trauma as a result of approaching these difficult issues, remind yourself that these are difficult times, and that it’s very valid to be overwhelmed.

2. Take breaks

If social media, articles, or anything else is getting to be too much, don’t be afraid to take a break. Taking time away to recharge and recollect your thoughts is a crucial facet of effective activism, and putting your phone or laptop down for a bit before revisiting the issue is really important, both for your own mental health and to continue educating yourself and advocating for justice and equality.

3. Document your thoughts and feelings

If you’re experiencing intense feelings or emotions, a really effective outlet can be to write them down or speak them out loud. Documentation can serve as a great way to introspect, both now and later. Kintsugi’s voice journaling app can transcribe your voice into text for you to reflect on later, as well as give you valuable information about your mental state for you to track your mental health progress over time. Send your voice journal to your friends or family if you think your insight can educate someone else. Documentation and journaling can be a really great way to decompress as well as allow you to evaluate your own ideas. Let your emotions and feelings better inform the decisions you make and the actions you take.

4. Listen to a good podcast

If you want some independent thinking time with the company of a podcast, there are many podcasts that can help you learn more about black history, black struggles, the Black Lives Matter movement, and much more. Podcasts like About Race with the author of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, Rennie Eddo-Lodge and The Black Curriculum are some among the many out there that detail black experiences and black history from black voices. 

5. Read a book

Immersing yourself into a book can be an informative and de-stressing activity. Some books like Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison and The Bondwoman’s Narrative by Hannah Crafts are great novels that explore race and experiences of black individuals. Whether you want to learn more about the incarceration crisis, Civil Rights history, or memoirs and stories of influential people of the black community, there’s a book for you

6. Talk to someone

Let someone know how you’re feeling! Whether it’s a therapist or a trusted friend, telling someone about how what you’re reading or experiencing in light of the state of our world can help you release pent up energy and have valuable conversations with people you trust. Feeling heard in your journey as an ally or your journey as a member of the black community and your insight on these important issues is incredibly valuable, so tell someone!

7. Support equitable mental health resources

While mental health conditions don’t discriminate based on race, many healthcare systems, including mental healthcare systems, do. In fighting for equality, it is imperative that we also fight for equitable mental health care and resources. Resources like Therapy for Black Girls, Black Men Speak, and Ourselves, Black are just some of the many culturally aware resources tailored for members of the black community, their stories, and their struggles. 

8. Educate yourself and inform others about the mental health disparity

When aiming to fix issues as pervasive as racism and inequity in mental health, it’s crucial that you learn as much as you can about the issue in order to do your best in solving it. There are many studies and articles, like this one from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, that can give you in-depth insight into what mental health stigma and inequitable mental health care as it pertains to the black community really looks like. In doing so, have conversations with others and educate them to start caring about the issue. A good place to start is to forward them resources, whether it be this blog post or an interesting research paper you read.

9. Listen to black voices

No one can tell you about the mental health struggles faced by the black community than members of the black community themselves. Continue to listen to black voices and stories, and use their insight and experiences to frame the way you look at issues that affect them as you continue your journey as an ally. 

Kintsugi’s core mission is to broaden the scope of mental health care and extend access to everyone who needs it with smarter technology. While machine learning models can be engineered to operate without bias, it’s clear to see that much of healthcare isn’t always able to do the same. Thus, it becomes our collective mission to fight for equality both in mental healthcare and in healthcare as a whole--this comes with removing bias from every level of our healthcare system and supporting equitable and culturally aware mental healthcare.

While you may not see as many protests on the news as you used to, the conversation about racial equality and what we can do to support it is far from over. Black lives and black mental health matter and will always continue to matter -- today, tomorrow, and forever.


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