Racial Trauma and Mental Health

Racial Trauma and Mental Health

In the past few years, racial conflicts and traumatic events have led to an increase in mental health problems among black people, indigenous people, and people of color (collectively known as BIPOC) in the United States. Race-based trauma is a particular form of trauma because it comes from the daily manifestations of systemic racism and discrimination.

Prolonged incidents of racism may cause race-based traumatic stress (RBTS). Similar to post-traumatic stress disorder, RBTS can cause physical reactions as well as emotional and behavioral symptoms, including anger, sadness, hypervigilance, low self-esteem, and social avoidance. Like PTSD, RBTS can be re-triggered by events similar to those that caused the trauma.

Understanding Race-Based Trauma

This kind of trauma based on racism has a long and painful history behind it. Whether it is anti-black or anti-Asian racism, the sentiments can be traced back to America’s history of slavery and racial exclusion. Violently or discriminatorily targeting people because of their race can bring on RBTS. The fear for personal safety can be an ongoing stressor.

The media’s repeated broadcasting of police brutality and hate crimes is one major traumatic stressor. Many people of ethnic minority communities experience traumatic stress reactions when viewing such content. What’s more, because the violence and hostility revolve around race, ethnicity, and culture, this traumatic stress can be passed down from one generation to the next. Raising anti-racist awareness in children is a good cause, but there is also the risk of traumatizing them at a young age, so this must be done with care.

Denial about whether racial trauma exists in America can also be traumatizing for marginalized minority groups who experience bias and discrimination on a day-to-day basis. Along with historical trauma, inter-generational memory, micro-aggression, and daily experiences of racial inequality speak the loudest about the reality of racial trauma.

Identifying Symptoms of Racial Trauma

People identifying as BIPOC who have experienced the negative impact of racism need to do some self-assessment as to the best steps for self-care.  Some symptoms of racial trauma may include distress, avoidance/dissociation, anxiety, negative self-image, heightened sense of insecurity, over-sensitivity to their surroundings, and depression.

Unfortunately, not many mental health professionals have acknowledged the importance of diagnosing racial trauma. This is largely because of the cultural denial and ignorance about what discrimination means to people’s mental health and general well-being. The under-representation of racial minorities in medical and professional communities is another reason the diagnosis and treatment of racial trauma-related mental health issues often get swept under the rug.

Coping with Racial Trauma and Its Related Mental Health Issues

Because race-based trauma resembles PTSD in many ways, traditional PTSD treatment can be effective. Other options include trauma-informed psychotherapy to help an individual identify his or her emotions and process the traumatizing experiences. Social support from family, friends, and the community is always important.

People who struggle with race-based trauma may want to seek clinicians of color because these medical professionals can empathize with their situation. Because media consumption can become a source of stress, people who are recovering from racial trauma may need to limit their media intake to lessen their emotional distress from the ongoing portrayals of racism.

Multiple Forms of Healing: From Anti-Racist Advocacy to Mindful Relaxation

For people in recovery from racial trauma, joining a community of advocates may help direct their feelings of injustice toward making a difference. Such advocacy can include educating more people about what racism is, what makes up racial micro-aggressions, how to avoid racial trauma triggers and the importance of self-care among BIPOC communities.

Even for anti-racist advocates, self-care must always include activities in things that make them feel happy, content, and empowered. Whenever one feels stressed or exhausted to the point of burnout, they must retreat into the beautiful aspects of life. Recognize the ongoing effects of racism on one’s emotional well-being and mental health. Do not deny its effects, for that denial is unhelpful and diminishes a very real problem.

Race-based trauma may produce chronic stress because people often internalize that kind of bias. It is important to know when to detach from this stress and just be oneself. BIPOC and allies can recognize their value and self-worth and ground themselves in a kind of self-love that cannot be shaken by other people’s opinions. This requires getting in touch with oneself at a deep level. Surrounding oneself with family and friends who reflect that healthy self-image to them is beneficial. With the help of friends, family, allies, and therapists when necessary, marginalized groups can begin to heal from RBTS.

Race-based trauma or exposure to racial trauma may lead to mental health problems such as anger, stress, anxiety, and depression. This can be particularly acute among black, indigenous, and people of color communities in the United States. If you or someone you know struggles with mental health issues caused by race-based trauma, early intervention and treatment are key. Untreated mental health illnesses may increase the risk of substance use. You can find trusted health professionals at Laguna Shores Recovery to answer all questions about trauma and healing. We are familiar with the trauma-informed approach to wellness. We commit to helping clients achieve holistic, sustainable recovery. Our complete medical and residential facility offers a range of treatments, including diagnosis, behavioral therapies, 12-step programs, and treatment plans. Mental health treatment should not be delayed. Call us at (866) 906-3203 so we can help you or your loved one start a new journey toward healing.