Racism, Trauma and Mental Health

Updated: Aug 10

By: Amira Mensah, Development and Communications Associate

As a result of four centuries of racism, oppression and injustice the Black community suffers racial trauma intergenerationally. In addition to the obvious racial macroaggressions such as witnessing the murders of Black people, racial microaggressions that occur on a daily basis also have a tremendous impact on the mental health of Black children, youth and families.


Racial trauma, a form of race-based stress, refers to People of Color and Indigenous individuals’ (POCI) reactions to dangerous events and real or perceived experiences of racial discrimination. Such experiences may include threats of harm and injury, humiliating and shaming events, and witnessing racial discrimination toward other POCI. Although similar to posttraumatic stress disorder, racial trauma is unique in that it involves ongoing individual and collective injuries due to exposure and re-exposure to race-based stress.(1)


With every act of racism retraumatization occurs. Living in a state of trauma has sadly become a part of the Black experience.

Unhealed, race-based trauma can lead to the internalization of negative thoughts and beliefs for both the individual and community. A once-promising life trajectory of a child can take a devastating turn as a result of experiences with racism during childhood. As an adult, persistent feelings of hopelessness, anger and powerlessness can result in severe mental illnesses.


The impact of systemic racism has caused a wide distrust in the area of healthcare among the Black community and a reduced likelihood of seeking mental health services. Because Black mental health professionals make up a disproportionately small percentage of the mental health workforce, locating a Black therapist is challenging.(2)


The therapists in HCN’s Ma’at Program are committed to reversing the impact of racial trauma and destigmatizing mental health. The Ma’at Program pairs Black/African-American clinicians with Black/African-American clients. Being paired with clinicians that share the same cultural background and lived experiences helps put clients at ease. Trusting relationships form as healing begins.


As Homeless Children’s Network continues to revolutionize the ways in which Black communities receive mental health services, we are reminded that healing race-based trauma is itself a revolutionary act.










References

1. Comas-Díaz, L., Hall, G. N., & Neville, H. A. (2019). Racial trauma: Theory, research, and healing: Introduction to the special issue. American Psychologist, 74(1), 1-5.


2. American Psychological Association. (2014). Demographic characteristics of APA members by membership characteristics. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/workforce/publications/14-member/table-1.pdf


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