Around the world, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color are the target of prejudice, systemic discrimination, microaggressions, and physical acts of violence due to the color of their skin.
Experiences of racism not only cause distress at the moment but can also lead to mental health issues that become more severe with each experience.
Let’s review some of the immediate and long term effects of racism.
During and immediately after experiencing racism, the fight-or-flight nervous system response may be activated. This survival response prepares people to respond to threats in the environment and can include anxiety or stress, rapid heartbeat, sweating, nausea, and racing thoughts. People can also experience sadness, anger, and have a lowered sense of self-worth and confidence. Over time, the cumulative effect of racism can cause chronic stress and heightened stress response, poor overall mental health, and physical health issues. Experiencing racism can contribute to or lead to symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. It can also cause hypertension and other cardiovascular problems, relationship difficulties, trouble with school or work performance, and an overall reduced sense of wellbeing.
People do not have to be the direct target of interpersonal acts of racism to experience its harmful effects. Research shows that being a part of a marginalized group in and of itself is a source of stress. Witnessing oppression or violence towards individuals from one’s community can cause vicarious trauma and even symptoms associate with post-traumatic stress disorder. This is often widespread after instances of racist violence makes national headlines.
The economic and emotional impact of dehumanization and victimization can be passed down over generations.
The ripple effects of history are still impacting many people in the present day.
People from marginalized communities are not only more prone to experience mental health issues due to social determinants and institutionalized racism, but they’re also less likely to have access to treatment for their concerns. It’s clear that increasing access to mental health care is vital to promote the health and wellness of everyone.
So, how do we make changes? No one individual alone can be responsible for affecting change. As said by Angela Davis “In a Racist Society it is not enough to be non-racist, we all must be anti Racist”. Positive change and healing require a conscious effort from everyone. When it comes to such an ingrained and widespread problem such as racism. We must educate ourselves on the history of racism and unlearn many things that are presented as truth by the dominant culture. Even by taking the minimalist approach, we can make a great change like taking initiative and learning more by researching, there are many books, websites, training, and other resources to help us on this journey.
Don’t place the burden of the time and emotional labor of this education on already burdened people from marginalized communities. When you see acts of racism, call it out, and call people into having meaningful conversations about the impact of their words and actions.
Let’s all work together to support mental health for all and make our world a more equitable and inclusive place.
Written by Nikeeta Singh
Edited by Ria Bhatia