Racism has always been an important topic in the black community, and in recent years the spotlight has brought an increased awareness of the issue to the nation as a whole. Mental health is also an important topic, but one that is not often admitted or addressed in communities of color. One aspect of racism that many healthcare providers are starting to point out is the emotional and mental side effects of systemic racism on people of color. Although Clinicians of Color have been speaking on this topic for years, it is only recently that non-POC experts started paying attention.
The Effects of Racism on Mental Health
People of color, especially those in the African American community have completely different life experiences than other races. As a whole, black lives have been marginalized since before the formation of the country, and have always been viewed as “less than” in just about every aspect of life. Bigotry, oppression, fear, and lack of proper access have created a generational mental health burden that is unique to the black community. In addition, the usual mental health concerns and triggers that affect society as a whole are also present. Living in a society where racism is a normal part of life causes mental trauma that is not fully understood. These traumas directly translate to an increase in mental illness which should be taken seriously, but is often overlooked.
Trauma & Mental Health In The Black Community
In the majority of mental health conditions that exist, the most common reason is past trauma. This can be as simple as a difficult childhood to a traumatic event. However, until recently racism and bigotry were not viewed as traumas that could lead to various mental health problems. Racial trauma that is obvious is very much a concern, however, the subtle and repeated traumas that black people experience on a daily basis are even more harmful.
Being a target of suspicion or being avoided due to fear and ignorance plays on the psyche in a myriad of ways. The systematic denial of services, loans and even proper medical care breeds inherent distrust that can seldom be remedied. The constant fear of arrest and incarceration is an ongoing trauma that is further exacerbated by wholesale racial profiling.
The Effects of Racism Against African Americans Seeking Mental Health Services
The black community has a strong distrust of doctors and psychiatrists, all with good reason. Aside from the fact that the black community has long been used as an unauthorized testing ground for all manner of treatments, many doctors overlook basic problems in lieu of giving severe diagnoses. For example, the percentage of people of color who suffer from schizophrenia is on par with that of whites; however, clinicians tend to focus more on psychotic symptoms when dealing with a black person. As a result, major depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental health concerns are overlooked in favor of a schizophrenia diagnosis.
As a whole, it has been proven that people of color are given a schizophrenia diagnosis at a much higher rate than other races, even when other mood conditions are present. Of course, this leads to the patient being overmedicated and their actual problem left undiagnosed and unaddressed. What’s worse, black children and black teenagers who are suffering from various mental health disorders are referred into the juvenile justice system due to behavior instead of being referred for mental health services.
The POC Community & Avoidance of Mental Health Concerns
Aside from being denied care or given inaccurate treatments, there is a rather large stigma in the black community regarding the need for mental health care. The general distrust of the medical field and the constant burden of racism has led to a generational avoidance of mental health services as a whole. If you suggest a black person visit a therapist, most will deny the need or state that such help is not effective. The fact that there are so few mental health professionals of color further limits the desire or the ability of those in the black community to seek help when needed.
How Racism Affects Individual Mental Health
Constantly being bombarded with outward and systematic racism leads to a myriad of mental health issues. Often this turns to anger and rage when there is no outlet or help is available. The most common condition caused by racism is depression, and in many cases, racial trauma actually results in PTSD. Increase racial stress causes problems not only with mental health, but also one’s physical health. Experiencing and observing racism both result in increased stress, high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. Unfortunately, racism and discrimination occur almost on a daily basis, this sustained pressure leads to often permanent changes in the brain due to sustained production of stress hormones.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Mainstream clinicians accepting that racism has a very real and tangible effect on mental health is the first step on a long path to health. Now that more medical professionals are aware of how racism can affect the mind and body, those seeking help from the black community have a better chance at receiving a proper diagnosis and treatment for their conditions. Convincing the POC community to actually seek help will take time, but knowing that there is a listening ear is a good place to start.
Paying Attention To Your Health For The Future
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