Racism and mental health: what you need to know

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Discrimination based on race or skin color can create a host of problems, such as chronic stress, anxiety, depression and racial trauma, which can affect your quality of day-to-day life.

Acts of racism can vary widely. They generally fall into one of two main categories:

Racism at the micro level do you personally experience everyday in public or at work, or watch others live. This can range from an obvious physical and verbal confrontation to more subtle acts directed against minorities. This could include things like abuse, disrespect, or flippant racist “jokes”.

Racism at the macro or systemic level is how you feel through laws, regulations and policies. It includes the types of stories told in the media about people of color, as well as the rules that govern institutions like the justice system, health care, education system, or financial system.

How does racism have an emotional impact?

The micro and macro levels of racism and discrimination can shake your self-confidence. They can make you question your identity and scare you from doing daily chores. Over time, they can lead to emotional effects such as:

  • Sad, depressed or suicidal thoughts
  • Anxiety, feeling that you need to be on your guard against future incidents
  • Decreased self-esteem. You believe in negative messages about yourself and about like-minded people in your community. This is called internalized racism.
  • Negative outlook and hopelessness about the possibility of change in your quality of daily life
  • Symptoms of distress and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anger
  • Exhaustion, such as lack of energy to plan or think

What is racial trauma?

Whether it’s subtle daily discrimination or constant news about violence against people of color over time, the insulting and dehumanizing effects of racism can add to what experts call racial trauma.

The intensity of racial trauma can vary from person to person. In some cases, the symptoms can be very similar to PTSD. It can cause you to constantly revisit distressing events in your head and affect your overall well-being.

Symptoms of racial trauma include:

  • Increased vigilance and avoidance of perceived threats
  • Chronic stress
  • Irregular sleep patterns
  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Low self esteem
  • Substance abuse
  • Feeling disconnected from others
  • Avoid interactions with people
  • Avoid new opportunities or take risks

If you don’t treat the symptoms, racial trauma can bleed into everyday life and affect your ability to function properly, concentrate at work, and relate to family and friends.

How Does Racism Affect Your Physical Health?

Dealing with racist behavior on a regular basis, whether subtle or direct, can certainly undermine your mental well-being. It also causes your body to release stress hormones which put you on a heightened state of alert. This can lead to physical problems which lead to illnesses such as:

  • Inflammation
  • Elevated cortisol levels
  • Arterial hypertension
  • Increased heart rate
  • Decreased immune function

What does the research say?

A recent study conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles found that facing discrimination as a young adult makes you more likely to develop mental and behavioral problems in the short and long term. Researchers examined decades of health information from more than 1,800 Americans between the ages of 18 and 28 who cited race as a common factor of discrimination.

The study also found that those who were discriminated against frequently – that is, a few times a month or more – were around 25% more likely to be diagnosed with mental illness. They were also twice as likely to develop severe psychological distress over time.

In fact, as a person of color you are much more likely to be exposed to negative socio-economic factors such as poverty, unemployment, incarceration, or abuse. Research shows that black adults are 20% more likely to report severe psychological distress than white adults.

What’s more, research also shows that native and native American adults have the highest reported rate of mental illness of any racial identification group.

Ways to cope with racism and racial trauma

While you may not be able to change the way people treat you, curb racist behavior in society, or tackle systemic racism in the near future, there are things you can do to improve your behavior. mood and take better care of your emotional and physical health.

Talk about your experiences. Finding a safe space to share what you’ve been through can be a relief. It can also lower your risk of mental health problems.

Name your emotions. Racism can often make you feel insulted, demeaned or disconnected. No matter what you are feeling, labeling the emotion can be uplifting and let you move through it in a constructive way.

Locate and identify what triggers you. Try to focus on the person, place, or situation that is affecting your mental health. It can relieve anxiety and help you deal with trauma.

Find a role model or mentor. Connect with someone who inspires and motivates you. It can boost your self-esteem.

Take a break from the triggers. Incidents of racial discrimination can elicit heightened emotions. Over time, this can wear you out. Take a break from anything that can trigger these feelings.

Connect with others who have similar experiences. Peer support and a sense of connection with friends, family or a support group can be a powerful and effective way to overcome or manage mental health issues.

Join organizations that fight racism and create positive change. Racism is a deeply rooted problem, and while change may not be possible overnight, joining an organized group that seeks to change laws and regulations to protect yourself, your community, and other vulnerable minority groups can be. stimulating. It can also give you a sense of control and help you find your voice, which can boost your self-esteem.

Get professional mental health help. If you are struggling with mental health issues as a result of the racism you have experienced personally or systematically and it affects your daily life, see a doctor. Your doctor, psychologist or counselor can guide you in the right direction. You may need to take prescription drugs to control your mental health.

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