Experiencing racial prejudice and injustice can be emotionally draining, triggering persistent stress, anxiety, depression, and racial trauma. There are, however, strategies to boost your resilience and protect your mental health. Images of police brutality and the protests that ensue tend to dominate the news. However, if you are black or another racial minority, racism and discrimination are often a daily, but unnoticed reality—and it can have a major impact on your mental health, raising your risk for depression, anxiety, stress, trauma, and drug addiction.
How racism influences your mental health
Images of police brutality and the protests that ensue tend to dominate the news. However, if you are black or another racial minority, racism and discrimination are often a daily but unnoticed reality—and it can have a major impact on your mental health, raising your risk for depression, anxiety, stress, trauma, and drug addiction.
As a person of color, you are considerably more likely to face bad life events such as poverty, unemployment, incarceration, or abuse. Our society frequently overlooks black and minority contributions to history and culture, popular movies and TV shows tend to focus solely on negative racial stereotypes, and some famous politicians espouse vile, violent hatred. Financial institutions are less inclined to extend credit to you—or to charge you significantly more for doing so. And when calamity strikes, such as the global coronavirus pandemic and the associated economic impact, it is our black and minority communities who bore the brunt of the pain.
Coping with Covert Racism
Then there are the subtler kinds of racism that pervade modern society. The security guard who follows you throughout the store because of the color of your skin. The cops who stop and search you without reason. The company that refuses to serve you. The boss who once again passes you over for a promotion. The white folks who cross the street when you approach, avoid sitting next to you on the bus or carry their bags closer when you enter an elevator. Such common “micro-aggressions” can be emotionally damaging, leaving you feeling alienated, overwhelmed by stress, and undervalued as a human being.
You may be outraged by our society’s lack of equality, despairing at your lack of authority, or devastated by the injustice of it all. Whatever your experiences with racism have been, it is critical to know that you are not alone. There is strength in numbers, and there are steps you can take to cope with situations beyond your control, no matter how heinous they are. There is also hope. Powerful movements are pressing for social change all around the world, and many more people appear to be taking notice. While personal bias and structural and institutional racism will not go away overnight, there are many things you can do to stand up to discrimination, strengthen your family and community, and safeguard your mental health in the face of ignorance and hatred.
All types of racism and discrimination can erode self-confidence and lead to self-doubt, making us question our identity and place in the world. The emotions triggered by these experiences can have a negative impact on one’s well-being:
- Lower self-esteem and feelings of shame. You believe the negative messages your community sends about yourself and those who look like you. This is known as internalised racism or internalised colorism.
- Negative outlook and despondency regarding the likelihood of change in your daily quality of life
- Exhaustion, such as a lack of energy to prepare or think
- Anxiety, the sensation that you must be on guard against potential happenings
- Sadness, depression, or suicidal ideation
- Distress and PTSD symptoms
The dehumanizing impacts of discrimination and racism can lead to racial trauma over time, forcing someone to replay upsetting events in their heads continually. If left untreated, this can impair your capacity to function in life and work, as well as preserve relationships with colleagues, friends, and family. Among the symptoms of racial trauma are:
- Low self-esteem
- Sleeping patterns that are inconsistent
- Feeling distant from others Avoiding interactions with others
- avoiding new opportunities or taking risks
- Increased vigilance and avoidance of perceived risks
- Chronic stress
- Substance abuse
- Aggressive behavior
Racism has a negative influence on both mental and physical health.
1) Describe your feelings
Racism can make people feel belittled and offended. Whatever your emotions are, labeling them can be empowering and allow you to work through them constructively. Share your thoughts and interact with others. Share your experience with others; it can help others empathize with what you’re going through, minimize the loneliness you may be feeling, and bring some relief.
2) Determine what sets you off
Narrowing down the precise persons and situations that have a negative impact on your mental health can also help you understand what you may need to do to minimize your anxiety and process trauma.
3) Join organizations that fight racism and make a difference in society
Due to the pervasiveness of racism, joining causes, movements, and organizations that work to dismantle unjust systems, laws, practices, and policies and to support the most vulnerable groups can be immensely rewarding, empowering, and give you a sense of control, as well as help you find your voice!
4) Seek professional assistance
If you’re struggling and racism is affecting your daily life, don’t be hesitant to seek professional treatment. There are networks of Black and Minority Ethnic therapists that have lived through the challenges you have encountered and can help you get your mental health back on track.