Research shows that interpersonal and structural racism negatively impacts the mental health of people of color, causing or contributing to conditions such as depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress, disordered eating, and psychosis. Being treated in unjust and dehumanizing ways can leave people of color experiencing anger, low self-esteem, loneliness, and feelings of being silenced or erased.
If racism is affecting your mental health, first and foremost, please understand that it’s completely unacceptable that you’re being subjected to this, and the ideal, complete, necessary solution to the mistreatment you’re going through is widespread systematic and cultural change.
That being said, there are proactive steps you can take to offset the toll racism takes on your mental health, so that you can live as freely and joyfully as possible in the here and now.
Talk about your experiences
Bottling up that “ick” feeling you get when someone touches your hair without asking or keeps insisting to know where you’re “really” from isn’t healthy. Share what you feel with trusted others who experience similar forms of racism, or who are otherwise able to truly listen to and affirm you. When you find yourself too overwhelmed or confused to talk about what you’re feeling, spend some time journaling — the clarity of putting words to your emotions can bring some relief.
Know when to distance yourself
Unfortunately, in the United States, direct or indirect experiences with racism are pretty frequent parts of life for people of color. It’s important to recognize when it’s time to take extra steps back from exposing yourself to this — temporarily or permanently.
An example of distancing yourself temporarily would be taking a break from keeping up with the news. Although it’s valuable to stay informed, getting overwhelmed with stories of hate crimes, police violence, and day to day inequality can create a toxic amount of stress. An example of distancing yourself permanently would be exiting spaces that cannot value or appropriately support your presence as a person of color. Consider transferring out of a school that claims to be “inclusive” but does not actually take steps to address the needs of students of color, or leaving a workplace that claims to value diversity… but can’t seem to promote or retain Black and brown employees.
Know when to take action
We are a long way from ending interpersonal and systemic racism, but getting involved in efforts to heal those wounds and dismantle those structures can positively impact your mental health. Collaborating with other activists can create a space for you to feel your anger about the past and present, and perhaps also connect to feelings of hope for the future. Educating others and creating smaller scale changes in your community can give you a sense of empowerment. Feeling hopeful and capable are really important when it comes to offsetting symptoms of anxiety.
Get the right therapist
Connecting with a therapist who actually gets it can really make a difference in working on navigating racism and your mental health. This could be a therapist who shares a similar identity and life experiences as you, or a therapist who intentionally educates themselves on different cultures and actively builds antiracism and anti-oppressive practices into their therapeutic approach. These are key components of our philosophy at Salt River Therapy — if you’d like to learn more about starting treatment with one of our therapists, click the button below to schedule a free phone consultation.