Black Mental Health Matters: Addressing the Mental and Physical Impacts of Racism and Racial Bias on Black Individuals
By Dr. Daphne Magna, Inclusion & Culture Consultant, Founder of Tough Convos / October 8, 2021
The trauma of anti-Black racism, police brutality and covid stressors combined have made it exponentially worse. And though this trauma is not new in North America or beyond, we are only now paying attention to the toll it is taking on our mental health as a collective. We’ll call this Black mental health. Because it’s different – the trauma is unique, the experiences are varied, yet they are culturally relevant to every Black person in the world despite country or culture.
Mental health in general means different things to different people depending on their personal relationship with stress, health, and spirituality. And there are many examples of the toll anti-Black racism has taken on an entire population. Black folks don’t have the luxury to not pay attention to what’s going on around them because historically it has proven to be life or death. So what we need to remind people of, especially with respect to the Black experience, is that it is not one size fits all, and neither is their health. There are culturally relevant strategies that have proven to be more successful than not and I’d like to highlight a few of those here.
COMMUNITY CARE IS YOUR FOUNDATION
This trauma cannot be overcome by hiding, by enduring without an outlet, by being embarrassed to share or to release all this negative energy. Let it go with others who have your back. Now is the time to find someone else who is going through what you’re going through, can relate to your experiences, and with whom you can have a deep discussion about your emotions, your responses, your needs, and your frustrations. Have it with neighbors, friends, colleagues, or Black therapists near you. Just make sure you’re having this discussion, that you’re supported while doing it, and that you are comfortable in those spaces.
SELF-CARE IS NOT SELFISH
For many parents and women, the idea of putting yourself first is alien. But it’s important to realize that if you don’t take care of yourself, whatever that means for you, you cannot care for others, and you will burn out. So, if you want to show up for your community, your colleagues, your neighbors who are struggling too, or your kids who need you 150% right now, you better carve out 10, 15, 60 minutes to refresh when you need it.
Sometimes it might just be a walk outside to get out of your head so you can tackle life fresh. Or sometimes it’s an adventure, where you experience new stimuli, new sounds, new aesthetics, or new surroundings to rejuvenate.
So, if you’re stressed, take a breather – self-care is your right and your duty.
RESPONSES TO TRAUMA AND COPING MECHANISMS MAY VARY
Each of us has a unique personality and we all have varying degrees of ability and knowledge. Our emotional responses are a reflection of that variety, in both positive and negative situations. When a group of people has repeatedly been forced into survival mode, their response to trauma can run the gamut, from apathy to guilt to fear to exhaustion to anger to diminished creativity to antagonism… and the list goes on. Equally diverse are the tools that work for those same people who find themselves dealing with the trauma of anti-Black racism.
Experts often talk about finding peace in all this chaos but maintaining that same peace of mind requires strategies that work specifically for you and your lifestyle.
Here are six ways you can support your own mental health during difficult times:
- Acknowledge the difficulty of the situation right now. Stop downplaying the negative emotions you’re experiencing and let them be what they are. It is ok to feel whatever you are feeling. Give yourself some grace.
- Feel less anxious by being prepared with a daily regime of healthy food and vitamins, an exercise that you enjoy doing, and a medical plan that you’re confident in.
- Find places and people where you can release those emotions and use that negative energy for something positive and re-energizing, such as support groups, martial arts, nature hiking, sports, writing, community work, and helping others.
- Take advantage of non-traditional places and activities such as art, dance, farms, outdoor retreats, places where you can express yourself freely.
- Traditional mindfulness practices like yoga and meditation are great for some people but may be unhelpful to those who are naturally introverted and fare better when they focus their energies and emotions outward.
- Be scrupulous about the type of media and communication you consume. We are hyperconnected and unconsciously affected by the barrage of negative messaging which has a profound effect on our ability to make good decisions, to be in good spirits, and to come back strong after setbacks.
The important thing to remember is that this is a collective experience that we are working through together and we all need different types of support, but those supports do exist. You might have to do some work and find out what you really need to operate at your best. The first step is to get out of your head – go breathe some fresh air, see the expanse of nature to bring your energy level back up, and then GO find your groove.
There’s no question: lockdowns and social distancing, not being able to see friends and family, being told you’re a threat to your own parent or grandchild – this stuff is very tough to handle emotionally. Recognize it for what it is – not normal and not easy, and go replace these messages with something that is. The language and the news you feed your mind is crucial to your wellbeing. And for those of you who are leaders in your spaces, be the outlet, be the light, be the guide for those who feel lost, and are struggling to pull out from under all this negative news.
One of the women I admire, Colleen Ward, who I worked closely with on the North American task force that Black Professionals in Tech Network put together, calls it “inspired exhaustion”. We know the work isn’t done, we know we need to push on, and we know it is exhausting. But we also know that we can’t afford to let the momentum slide and that our mental health is more important now than ever. Because we also know that the strategies we are using to change the tide of North American culture forevermore will be dreamed up by those very folks that have been beaten down.
BLACK MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES:
Thankfully, there are some directories in both Canada and the US working to mitigate the shortage and accessibility of these culturally attuned therapists:
DAPHNE MAGNA, Inclusion & Culture Consultant, Founder of Tough Convos, is a multilingual Management Consultant and Founder of Tough Convos. She transforms multicultural teams by helping them get uncomfortable and build deeper cultural awareness. She spent the past 10 years tackling Diversity and Inclusion from an actionable, cultural intelligence perspective. She has facilitated 1000’s of tough conversations and learning experiences for fortune 500s, entrepreneurs, higher education, and communities.
Daphne’s advocacy work in human rights and as a founding board member of Black Professionals in Tech Network (BPTN), compelled her to create a safe space where allies of the Black community tackle tough issues and work towards eliminating systemic racism. Her forte is creating content and experiences that communicate complex ideas in creative, comprehensible ways and lead to progress and growth in organizations.
She holds an Honours BA from York University and is certified in Communications Consulting and the Global Mindset Inventory from Thunderbird School of Global Management.
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