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The Impact Of Racism On Mental Health

Racism causes stress, and that stress affects mental health in a variety of ways. Here are some of the ways that racism can impact your mental health.

“Racism is a form of trauma,” wrote Angela Neal-Barnett, a professor in the department of psychology at Kent State University. She goes on to explain in her article, To Be Female, Anxious and Black, that this trauma can be experienced directly or indirectly.

Direct trauma from racism may take the form of violence, while indirect trauma from racism may come from seeing racial violence in videos online. Both direct and indirect racism can be devastating to people of color.

This trauma affects people in ways that follow them their entire lives. While it may not be possible to control the existence of racism or eliminate racism from society, healthy coping mechanisms can help people affected by racism.

These coping mechanisms enable people of color to manage the stresses they experience because of racism, which in turn can positively impact their mental health.

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How Racism Affects Mental Health

To understand all the effects of racism and how they may be impacting your mental health, speak with a qualified therapist.

Powerlessness And Lack Of Control

One of the common beliefs prevalent in modern society is that we’re able to control our environment through hard work and perseverance.

By going to school, getting good grades, attending college, and working hard in the workforce, we can take care of ourselves, pay our bills, take care of our loved ones, and find success in our careers.

However, people who experience racism throughout their lives may have repeated experiences that contradict this belief.

Hard work and perseverance cannot keep racism at bay, and in a racist society, hard work may not pay off. This contributes to feelings of powerlessness and lack of control over one’s own environment.

Feelings Of Anxiety

People who experience racism throughout their lives are sometimes plagued by anxiety that comes from this lack of control and trauma.

Anxiety has long-term ramifications that affects nearly all systems and parts of the body, from digestion to blood pressure, cognitive function to the psyche. People with anxiety may experience:

People who experience anxiety over long periods may also experience physical challenges like heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and frequent migraines. People with anxiety disorders are also two or three times more likely to suffer from a substance use problem.

Internalized Racism

Internalized racism are negative feelings against one’s own self that occur because of external racism. Over many years, a person who experiences racism may come to have feelings of racial inferiority and low feelings of self-worth.

This too can be connected with serious conditions like depression and addiction.

What You Can Do

While everyone must cope with racism in their own way, there are some ways of coping that are healthier than others. Consider some things you can do to cope with the effects of racism in a healthy way:

Be Aware Of The Effects Of Racism

Knowing how racism has affected you can help you identify potential ways that you could benefit from help. For example, racism can cause anxiety. Severe anxiety has been linked to substance use problems.

Knowing the signs of a substance use problem can help you know when to seek help. Doing your research can lead you to self-reflection which in turn can lead to safe coping mechanisms.

Seek A Therapist With Cultural Competence

Most people suffering from emotional trauma benefit from professional help. Working with a therapist can be valuable, especially if you can find someone who has experience helping people suffering from race-related trauma.

Seek a therapist who can help you identify the effects of trauma and who can suggest healthy coping strategies.

Acknowledge Your Emotions

Many people who experience negative emotions from racism try to suppress those emotions in an effort to get beyond and rise above the tragedy. The terrible irony is that this can lead to an exaggerated (and sometimes delayed) emotional response that cannot be suppressed so easily.

Acknowledging your emotional response and practicing feelings of self-compassion is healthy. Allow yourself to experience feelings of sadness or anger over your experiences.

For many people, especially for adults, acknowledging and accepting one’s own emotions does not come easily. A professional therapist can help you understand your emotions, feel them more fully, and cope with them as they’re being experienced.

American Psychological Association - Physiological & Psychological Impact of Racism and Discrimination for African-Americans

Anxiety.org - The Link Between Experiences of Racism and Stress and Anxiety for Black Americans: A Mindfulness and Acceptance-Based Coping Approach

Anxiety and Depression Association of America - To Be Female, Anxious and Black

Kent State University - Angela Neal-Barnett

Psychiatry Advisor - Racial Discrimination Linked with Worse Mental Health

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