As a Black man who has worked in the community behavioral health industry for more than 30 years, I’ve seen a lot.
I’ve seen the struggles that individuals and family members go through when faced with mental illness challenges. I’ve seen people overcome great odds and come out on the other side of what might be considered the worst time of their lives. I’ve also had the privilege of working with and caring for individuals from a variety of ethnic communities. I can say with certainty that when it comes to mental health, race matters.
Years of oppression, the death of George Floyd and subsequent protests, riots and Black Lives Matter movement has had great psychological impact on Black people. It has also revealed unique challenges within the mental health services industry. Here are a few points to ponder:
Take all of these facts into account and then add the recent events into the equation and it is a recipe for a community crisis.
Experts define trauma as the experience of severe psychological distress following any terrible or life-threatening incident. The unrelenting series of events Black people have witnessed and experienced before and after the killing of George Floyd is racial trauma.
At its core, racial trauma is racism.
Racism takes three forms, each of which is a chronic stressor:
While recent events have been an incredible stressor on the Black community, it has also created opportunity as I believe individuals are having dialogs about race that they have never had before today. For many Black Americans, the journey to healing starts with sharing and the conversations many are having today is a step in the right direction.
Many are left wondering how can I help. Individuals can start by learning about white privilege, white fragility and the meaning of anti-racism. Educate yourself and participate in active listening and reflecting. Have a conversation with someone that is a non-white person regarding the meaning of white privilege and share your thoughts about systemic racism.
Organizations can play an important part, too. Avoid issuing empty statements. Black lives cannot matter if Black Americans are not part of an organization’s daily decision-making body, senior management or corporate board. Listen to what your Black employees are saying and advocate for the suggested changes. Do not limit listening to town halls or organization-wide meetings. Listen at lunch, listen at work and acknowledge and convert the ideas and recommendations you hear into action.
Editor’s note: Ed McClelland is vice president of community services for Southwest Behavioral and Health Services.