Opinion: Mental Health in 2020: A POC Perspective
The human brain is one of the most fascinating things in existence. It can put rockets into space and invent cures for diseases, and it can be our greatest ally in the most difficult of situations. However, the brain is also one of the most fragile things in the human body. Your mind can break faster than any bone given the slightest trigger, the faintest smell, or the quietest sound. If there has been one year over the past decade that has had the most triggers, the strongest smells and the loudest sounds of rebellion, pain and oppression for Black Indigenous and People Of Color, it was 2020. In the cases of self-doubt and sorrow, your brain can quickly become your worst enemy.
So this raises the question, how are the minds of people of color handling such a devastating and liberating year?
The Terms People Throw Around: One of the things that causes racial trauma are the simple comments or indiscrete actions of other people. These things can be extremely detrimental to one’s self-image and can make people self-conscious about voicing their opinions. The majority of these terms fall under the category of microaggressions. By definition, a microaggression is “a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority”(According to Oxford Languages). Some examples of microaggressions include clutching one’s purse when in the presence of an African American and dismissing a claim of racism from someone who says he or she has experienced it. Racism roots itself in ignorance and seemingly innocent comments, but making people aware of their effects could lead to a society that greatly reduces racial trauma.
The Mental Toll: The stresses of life alone are enough to make anyone crawl inside their own head and never come out. Now, if you add the pressures that a person of color has in society, the stress seems to stack itself up. It is a lot on a person to be constantly scrutinized and examined, constantly judged and told how to feel. For example, if you are BIPOC and you feel offended by a racially insensitive comment someone makes, you have a right to feel that way. Though others may not see that comment as offensive and might tell you to brush it off or that it was just a joke, the feelings of BIPOC should be validated.
The healing process as it pertains to mental illness can be extremely difficult for POC. For many mental illnesses that stem from trauma (microaggressions or outright displays of racial injustice like police brutality), most people go to a therapist to receive help. However, what happens when that trauma is tied to systematic racism or oppression? Unless your therapist is a POC, it may be hard for that person to understand the unique challenges you are going through.
In present day America, it can be argued that we have abandoned the rose tint of progress that once described the political climate within our country. In her article “People of Color Deal With Mental Illness, Too,” Dior Vargas, a Latina feminist and mental health activist, says “There is a stigma that is rampant in our society towards mental illness. Yet it is worse for communities of color. Mental illness doesn't discriminate but people do. People of color in the United States battle with microaggressions, cultural/religious/ language barriers, and negative stereotypes. That compounded with a mental illness is debilitating.”
Most would agree that we live in a scary world. Statistics don’t lay those anxieties to rest. According to CNN health, in black children ages 5-12, suicide rates were found to be 2 times higher than that of white children. Historically, the American legal system had demonstrated a bias against black citizens. Black people are seven times more likely to be convicted of murder than white people. Police brutality has affected the black community for decades and little has been done to curb the injustice in law enforcement.
Last year brought an onslaught of social activism and media coverage to an issue passed on by generations. After the death of George Floyd, people across the world took to the streets to fight for justice and equality. Protests like these can feel extremely liberating, because their message can be echoed on the news and social media. Having your voice heard is the greatest way to counter the challenges that many POC face. Black voices need to be heard. Latino voices need to be heard. Asian voices need to be heard. Our voices need to be heard.
Below are the links to some petitions and websites that can help you make a change:
Works Cited Page
Christensen, Jen. “Suicide Attempts by Black Teens Are Increasing, Study Says.” CNN, Cable News Network, 14 Oct. 2019, www.cnn.com/2019/10/14/health/black-teen-suicide-attempts-study/index.html.
Sue, Derald Wing. “Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 5 Oct. 2010, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/microaggressions-in-everyday-life/201010/racial-microaggressions-in-everyday-life.
Ward, Marguerite. “What Is a Microaggression? 14 Things People Think Are Fine to Say at Work - but Are Actually Racist, Sexist, or Offensive.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 24 July 2020, www.businessinsider.com/microaggression-unconscious-bias-at-work-2018-6.