October 7 2020
Since the death of George Flyod, Breonna Taylor, and countless others, outcry over the treatment of the Black community has reached a boiling point across the nation. In all fifty states, there have been mass protests encouraging authorities to hold George Floyd’s murderer and aliases accountable, as well as promoting the defunding the police and the dismantling of the systemic racism that has plagued the United States for centuries.
Although the Black community has shown astonishing resilience and strength amidst this movement, there is no doubt that police brutality and racial unrest takes its toll on the community’s mental health. This is further exacerbated by the fact that black communities are less likely to receive mental health assistance compared to their white counterparts.
In 2017, the American Psychiatric Association noted that even though Black and white communities have similar rates of mental health issues, those in white communities are far more likely to seek and receive professional help, with 11.3% of white men receiving mental health services in 2017 compared to only 6.6% of black men. The reasons for these disparities vary based on the individual situation, but common reasons are lack of health insurance, lack of black and ally professionals, widespread distrust of the healthcare system (likely due to medical bias against Black people, particularly women), and stigma.
RevNow spoke with several young black women about the effects of racial inequality and police brutality on mental health to spread their knowledge on how to cope with these tragedies and share how allies can help.
Liv Bednarik, 15, who organized a local peaceful protest with two allies, stated: “Race has affected my mental health in different ways… depression and anxiety make it difficult to find the energy to use your voice. You want to be out there marching, giving speeches, and educating, but on days when you can’t even get out of bed, you aren’t protesting. Plus there’s a lot of negativity out there in the world. Sometimes it feels like the efforts that you make aren’t being seen… the second is cultural-wise, black people, in general, tend to shy away from the conversation about mental health.”
Liv’s sentiment about the mental health stigma within the Black community was echoed by multiple women I spoke with. Gabrielle Lee, 24, the creator of the Instagram page, @blackmentalhealthmatters_, said “Many African-Americans don’t believe that mental illness is a thing. Some of them see it as a ‘white’ issue, which is not true… For me, getting help was a struggle… My family didn’t agree with me going to therapy and didn’t believe depression was real. I was told I needed Jesus.”
With respect to the especially strong wave of terror that has washed over the Black community in the wake of the George Floyd's death, I asked the women how police brutality has affected their mental state.
Bednarik said, “During these times I get nervous when I’m in a car with family because I don’t know what might happen and that’s a scary feeling… something that people enjoy doing and do every day turns into a nightmare for some.”
Fear of getting pulled over was shared among multiple of the women I spoke to. Activist Kendal Davis, 15, said, “from a young age I was aware of it and it’s something that I think about every day. When my dad and I are in the car, I always think about what could happen if we were to get pulled over. My dad has gotten pulled over when I was in the car with him before and although things have never escalated to violence, there is a constant feeling of anxiety about what could happen.”
Furthermore, the lack of accountability in these cases can prompt feelings of hopelessness and low self-worth. When asked how these cases personally affect her, Gabrielle said, “It’s depressing. It’s getting worse and being recorded, yet officers are still not being charged. We have to start charging these officers with murder when life is being taken away, if not, this is going to continue to happen.”
Perhaps the most sobering answer I got was from a 16-year-old woman who wishes to remain anonymous, who said, “I’m not surprised.” Going on to describe the history of systemic racism and police brutality, as well as murders of black people that have occurred in her lifetime, she then went on to say: “It gets to a point where it’s like I’m numb… And it makes me so mad and upset... Our lives should be valued, not ended due to our skin color.”
In terms of coping with these feelings, a sentiment shared by several women was to disconnect from the media.
“When you are constantly being bombarded with more and more news, pictures, and videos of black people getting killed and harassed, it can definitely affect your mental state,” said Kendal.
Liv seconded this, saying “My way of coping is knowing when to turn off the phone and ‘rest’ my voice.” She went on to say that activists are allowed to rest for their own wellbeing, stating, “A lot of people think that when you become an activist, you can’t take any breaks, but you can… this movement isn’t just me or you, there are millions of people around the world who will speak for you when you need a break.”
The women went on to share other healthy coping skills, with Gabrielle saying, “I meditate or listen to music,” and Kendal saying, “I have taken up yoga to help me focus on myself and understand my stressors and triggers.”
While taking a break from the activism scene can be necessary for one to cope, others found that they cope best by doing the opposite.
When asked how she copes, the anonymous woman said, “I use my voice to advocate for my people, to free my mind, and to give a big f*ck you to everyone who stands with the senseless slaughter of people of color.”
When asked what they want people outside of the Black community to know, the common value among all of the women was simply for allies to educate themselves and fight on behalf of Black People.
“I want them [people outside of the black community] to know that this country was built off the broken backs of black slaves,” said the anonymous woman. “We will not be silenced until our children, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, and friends can walk the streets peacefully without fearing for their lives. We didn’t stop in the past and we won’t stop now. This is not a moment- it’s a movement.”
The other women shared the same determination to keep systemic racism in the public eye.
“I think that it is so important to understand that being an ally is so helpful. Black people cannot go home and take off our skin color. When we see instances of our people getting murder or harassed in any way just for the color of their skin, it weighs on us,” Kendal told me, who then went on to note a phenomenon she’s seen among allies.
“I’ve been hearing the tem ‘ally fatigue’ as of late, and it is so interesting to me because what allies are experiencing just for standing up for Black people is only a very small fraction of what Black people go through on a daily basis.”
“Silence is compliance," stated Liv, "The biggest thing for people outside the Black community is that you have privilege. Use it, and you’re no better than anyone else.”
When asked what she would like to say to other Black people who are struggling with their mental health, Gabrielle said, "I would love for the Black community to know that depression is real; anxiety is real...With everything going on, it’s normal for us to fall into a depression. We are constantly seeing our people being murdered… It’s okay to get help; it’s okay to feel sad.”
Liv also stresses the importance of self-care, saying, “Know that there are people out there willing to fight for you when you can’t. You don’t have to be front and center, ready for battle. You have millions of people ready to drop everything on a dime to be there for you.”
She also vouches for a balance of selflessness and self-compassion, advising, “Look at the news or try to self-educate for an hour or two for the day, and then stop. Sign petitions, educate your family or friends, but know it’s okay to take breaks when you know you need it.”
When asked about the common triggers allies subject Black people to, Liv highlighted the mental and emotional burden of explaining systemic racism to nonblack allies. She said, “Many suggest to people of the Black community that it’s their job to educate them. It’s not. We live in a time where information can come at the click of a button.” (Look below for links to educational and anti-racist resources)
As our interviewees demonstrated, it is incredibly important for Black individuals to take time for their mental health during the waves of tragedy that have hit their community both recently and historically. With the coping mechanisms and insights shared in this article, our hope is that both Black individuals and allies alike know where to start when it comes to promoting Black mental health amidst the Black Lives Matter movement.
Mental Health Resources for the Black Community:
- Black Mental Health Alliance
- Therapy for Black Girls
- Inclusive Therapists
- Black Mental Wellness
- Open Path Collective
Educational Resources for Allies:
- BLM Carrd #Educate
- NYT's Antiracist Reading List
- NPR's Podcast 'Code Switch'
- NYT's 1619 Project
- Harvard's 'Fighting Anti-Blackness Resource List'
Want to hear more from Revolution Now? Join our monthly newsletter here!