Many of us know the month of May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, but some of us may not know that the month of July is designated as Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. While everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, can experience various mental health challenges, some issues often plague minority communities due to racial struggles in this country.
One such issue is collective grief, which is a term given to the grief that rattles an entire community of people. There are many causes for collective grief in spheres outside of our race, such as the shooting in Uvalde. However, as people of color, this sense of collective grief is a chronic issue that has plagued our race for centuries. The images of Black people like Patrick Lloya and Jayland Walker bleeding at the hands of racist people or law enforcement leave mental scars on not just the immediate family members and friends — it is seared into the mental synapses of Black people all across the country.
As with all grief, we experience a wide range of emotions. In addition to the sadness, we feel when another life is taken, we often also feel anger and frustration that injustice seems to be the norm and not taken as seriously.
As a byproduct of our collective grief, we may experience race-based traumatic stress (RBTS) and racial-battle fatigue (RBT). From our own experiences and those we hear of, we worry about our safety and that of our family and friends, whether at the grocery store or church. This concern can turn into hypersensitivity and hypervigilance. As we realize that something could happen anywhere and that we can’t control how people will treat us, we often feel helpless and hopeless.
This reality comes with repercussions for our mental and physical health, which increases our risk for conditions that Black people often succumb to, such as high blood pressure and increased heart rate. Realizing that impact of racism seems to be a continuous cycle, how do we keep going? How can we heal even as fresh wounds are made as we learn of yet another uncalled-for death? Is there a way to handle the stress brought on by our concerns for our safety? How do we move forward without pretending everything is okay or losing our social consciousness? Can we do anything about what is happening around us instead of sitting back?
Here are several productive ways we can deal with these issues. The first three listed deal with practical ways to care for your well-being because, as Dr. Gishawn Mance of Howard University says, “It is difficult to help others when you are not OK.” When we prioritize our well-being, we can “move forward in action to help others” and impact our community.
- Dialogue with yourself and with others. Being able to honestly reflect on how you feel and share your thoughts with people who can relate to your feelings is essential. One great place to connect with others virtually is the SafePlace App (available for Android and Apple users), designed by Black mental health advocate Jasmin Pierre. If you choose to see a counselor or psychologist, it is best to seek a provider who understands the experiences of people of color. For more information on how to seek professional counseling geared toward Black people, you can visit the Mental Health America
- Avoid overdosing on violent media. While we cannot pretend bad things do not occur, we must learn to balance being informed and not taking too much violence. We need to consider how much time we spend ingesting terrible news, especially in the form of graphic videos. Often reading the story is usually enough to conjure a mental image that we can do without the video evidence.
- Redirect your mental energy. While you should not feel forced to ignore the pain, survival must take time to engage your mind and positively avoid negativity. Take care of your mind and soul by exercising, eating healthily, keeping a journal, or taking time to do something that you enjoy. One way to address fears and anxieties is to be proactive. For example, taking self-defense classes, taking account of your surroundings, or knowing what to do should a police officer stop you can be helpful.
- Engage in community effort When we refocus and redirect our anger and frustration, they can instigate reform. Sometimes we feel that there is not anything we can do, but we must recognize that this is not true. While not all of us may be comfortable with taking to the streets for protests, there are other ways to be involved socially. You can become more involved by joining organizations such as the National Urban League and Color of Change. These organizations have had success in their efforts. For example, the Color of Change has helped secure the release of 70 individuals in home confinement. As we take part in such organizations, we can combat the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. While you may be unable to create change in the entire country, signing petitions and voting in local elections are legitimate and valuable ways to make a difference. Should you decide to participate in a protest, read up on the best way to approach it to ensure your safety and that of others. One place with great information is the American Civil Liberties Union website.
So, I challenge you, DARE to heal!