Black Mental Health During Turbulent Times: What to Do When You’re Sick and Tired of Being Sick & Tired
July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. This is timely, as Black-Americans have reached a peak of anger and frustration with the multiple murders of unarmed Black folks at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve. The murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor ignited a firestorm of unrest in the Black community—perhaps dredging up the collective angst and alienation felt by so many since our ancestors’ release from captivity some 400 years ago. This is an unhealed wound for the Black-American collective. We have been unable to heal, perhaps because this nation may have released its captives from bondage, but continued their oppression in various other ways. The mental illness inherent in the system of racism/white supremacy has left its victims traumatized.
In her ground-breaking book, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, Dr. Joy DeGruy posits that “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS)” is a condition that exists when a population has experienced multigenerational trauma resulting from centuries of slavery and continues to experience oppression and institutionalized racism today. Added to this condition is a belief (real or imagined) that the benefits of the society in which they live are not accessible to them.” She further asserts that this syndrome results in a pattern of behaviors that fall into three categories: Vacant Esteem, Ever Present Anger, and Racist Socialization. This article will not allow the space to fully explore these categories, so your interpretation of the category labels will have to suffice until you read the book, which I strongly encourage.
The combination of PTSS and more commonly discussed mental conditions such as depression and anxiety leave over 43 million Black folks walking around the nation in various states of dis-ease. So, with it all at the forefront of our minds now—and even on the tips of many people’s tongues—how do we move forward? The following are some suggestions.
Acknowledge your feelings and thoughts, without judgment. Whether you are angry, afraid, indifferent, content, or apathetic, admit this out loud—to a trusted person or at least your journal. Sometimes we have to speak our feelings and thoughts out loud to realize they exist. For you, this may look like talking things over with a trusted friend, with your romantic partner, with a faith leader, with a counsellor/therapist; or it may look like making purposeful entries to your journal, or respectful comments on social media and/or online news articles. I do caution that with this last option, we must be careful to not fall into an emotional whirlwind of comment section “brawls.” If you cannot be content with making a respectful comment and walking away, you may need to avoid these comment sections.
Check-in with yourself on how well you are managing those thoughts and feelings. Dr. Rheeda Walker in her recently published The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health coined the concept of psychological fortitude. Put simply, this describes how well you are coping at this point in your life with whatever your stressors may be. Our ancestral ties to centuries of oppression have left us with the mindset that suffering and strife are just normal aspects of being Black in America. They are not, and likewise your personal suffering is not to be accepted as the norm. You may be anywhere between living your best life and barely making it, and how you rate your coping should determine your next step.
Ensure your coping strategies match the intensity of those thoughts and feelings. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But if your cup runneth over, it may be time to do something different. There’s a lot between not being broke and your cup running over. Let’s assume we are using Dr. Walker’s psychological fortitude concept on a scale from 0-100. At 0 you are lucky to be alive; you are so depressed and/or anxious that you have all but dropped out of life, and may even be contemplating suicide. At 100 you are living your best life. The most stressful occurrence in your life may be misplacing your keys for 15 minutes or realizing you lost $20 in the stock market. 50 would be the midpoint between these two. With this scale in mind, the following are some things you can do to deal and heal.
Use this list from low to high intensity and be sure your level of need matches the level on this list.
|PF 81 – 100||Read articles, book chapters, blog posts, magazine articles, social media posts about the issue you are facing. |
Speak with a trusted friend or family member who will hear you out, rather than dismissing your concerns.
|PF 61 – 80||Speak with a trusted friend or family member who will hear you out, rather than dismissing your concerns. |
Seek the counsel of your faith leader or healer.
|PF 41 – 60||Join a local support group. Many are currently offered online. |
Connect with a life coach. Many are now offering their services online.
Schedule an appointment with a professional counselor/psychotherapist. Many are now offering their services online. (See resources below for specifically finding a Black therapist.)
|PF 0 – 40||Schedule an appointment with a professional counselor/psychotherapist. Many are now offering their services online. (See resources below for specifically finding a Black therapist.) |
Call a crisis hotline or get to your nearest Emergency Department if your thoughts include harming yourself or others.
How to Find a Black Therapist
Melanin & Mental Health – Search their list of “Dope Therapists” (many are located in Houston, Texas)
Boris L. Henson Foundation – a nonprofit organization founded in 2018 by Taraji P. Henson and led by Executive Director, Tracie Jade Jenkins. The foundation is named in honor of Ms. Henson’s father, Boris Lawrence Henson, who suffered with mental health challenges as a result of his tour of duty in the Vietnam War.
Mental Health Match – Click Match with Therapists. Enter your zip code. Follow the prompts and when you reach the section about specifics of the therapist, be sure to check that the race of the therapist matters, and select Black.