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“What is the impact of racism on mental health?"

The killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25, 2020 has sparked a global anti-racism movement that is ongoing.

APA’s President Dr. Sandra L. Shullman announced “We are living in a racism pandemic”, drawing a parallel between the experience of fear and trauma of all global citizens due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the experience of fear, horror, and anger that Black communities feel daily due to racism. In her statement, Dr. Shulman, provided the following insights:

  • Lived experiences of racism and high-profile racial incidents are causing high levels of distress in Black communities in America.

  • Black people have the experience of being stereotyped and profiled by police based on their race.

  • There is a well-researched connection between racism and a number of negative outcomes, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and substance use disorders.

In her statement, Dr. Schulman advocates for evidence-based police guidelines centered around “dignity, respect, fairness, and neutrality” regardless of race. Dr. Schulman also echoed recommendations by the APA for those experiencing racial distress and trauma to practice self-care, connect with supportive others, limit media exposure, and seek professional help when appropriate.

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So what can mental health providers do?

Psychologist Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis recommends awareness to any defensiveness a psychotherapist feels when their clients are talking about racism. The recommendation is to stay with, understand, and believe the client’s experience rather than act with one’s own defensiveness by questioning or challenging the experience of felt-racism.

Dr. Bryant-Davis hints that this process may be a corrective experience, as clients have harmful experiences in therapy where race is seen as unimportant and/or their concerns of racism are invalidated or questioned. Dr. Bryant-Davis offered the following question to prospective clients to gauge their therapist’s level of racial awareness and anti-racism: “What is the impact of racism on mental health?"

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