These are the disastrous ways racism can affect people’s mental health

You’ve heard of post-traumatic stress disorder induced by war, sexual assault, or other disturbing events, but did you know that racism can have similar mental health consequences? It’s called racial trauma, and the effects on a person’s well-being are severe, ranging from depression, anxiety, and uncontrollable anger to an overall mistrust of white people.

Few researchers are studying this phenomenon, but one, Erlanger Turner, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Houston, explained to NY Mag that racial trauma can be triggered by repeated exposure to racist harassment, institutionalized racism, and the first-hand experience or witnessing of police violence against non-white people.

“Research has consistently shown that visual exposure to events can be traumatic,” Turner said. “I particularly believe that the recent news coverage of police shootings of black and brown men will cause some short-time trauma for individuals, especially children.”

“I strongly encourage parents to limit exposure to this type of news coverage,” he continued.

Turner wrote in a 2016 report that racial trauma can affect whole communities, creating a culture of increased vigilance and suspicion of social institutions, heightened defensiveness and risk avoidance, chronic stress and decreased immune system function, increased drug and alcohol abuse, and increased aggression.

Disturbingly, Turner also found that those enduring racial trauma experience a narrowed sense of time.

“Persons living in a chronic state of danger do not develop a sense of future, do not have long-term goals, and frequently view dying as an expected outcome,” he explained.

Monnica Williams, director of the University of Louisville’s Center for Mental Health Disparities, is another researcher examining racism’s mental health consequences. She wrote in a 2013 article for Psychology Today that racism in the workplace — including being demeaned, belittled, and given menial tasks below your skill level — can contribute to racial trauma and have disastrous outcomes, such as PTSD.

But, she argues, the current DSM only recognizes PTSD as the result of a particular event — such as an assault — not as the outcome of a lifetime of microaggressions.

“This is problematic,” Williams wrote, “given that many minorities experience cumulative experiences of racism as traumatic, with perhaps a minor event acting as ‘the last straw’ in triggering trauma reactions.”

To begin to heal the wounds of racial trauma, Turner outlines eight steps that must occur, including validating the experience of trauma and rechanneling rage associated with the experience. You can read more about the eight steps here.

Take care of each other, friends.

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