Black people have been through so much over the last few weeks, lifetimes and over generations. With racial injustice and violence being an ever present part of our everyday lives, we are bound to feel the effects of it in our bodies, spirits and minds. As a clinical social worker, I see firsthand how racial injustice shows up in ways that impact our mental well-being.
In the midst of the height of protests and uprisings, many of my clients were coming into the office reporting the same distress and symptoms. Difficulty sleeping, anxiousness and worry, feelings of rage and depression from directly witnessing or experiencing racial injustice. Many clinicians would call these symptoms and distress post-traumatic stress disorder, when in actuality it is racial traumatic stress. Over the past few weeks, more experts and people in the mainstream media are acknowledging the mental health impact of being Black in America and witnessing racial violence, over and over again.
When people think about fighting for Black liberation, we think of the direct action — the marches, demonstrations and uprisings. But what people don’t prepare you for is the after effect of it all — the racial trauma that stays with you for long periods of time. The dialectical happens where people must choose to show up or stay out because of the impact of the trauma in their lives.
What I do as a clinical social worker is help the people I serve, mostly young Black women acknowledge, process and make space for their experiences unapologetically. I help to usher in the healing that must happen for us to be whole, well and to rise even in the face of racial injustice.
By being a part of the healing process for our community during these difficult times, I’ve come up with three ways you can begin to heal from racial trauma:
One of the most difficult parts of dealing with racial trauma is the memory. The memory of racial violence and injustice can trigger a wide range of emotions and experiences. Though memory can be one of the most challenging parts of healing, I challenge you to engage with it in a different way. We can honor and remember those lost with tributes, prayers and speaking truth to power. We can find ways to ground ourselves when those memories come up with statements that acknowledge the impact, our current experiences and our power to overcome.
2. Collective Healing
Being in community with one another is absolutely necessary when we experience racial trauma. We need to be connected, to be heard and to be affirmed. Spending time with your support system to share your experience and struggles is a lifeline. It is also good to state what you need and how people can show up for you, or you show up with them, for support.
3. Mental And Emotional Nourishment
When we are experiencing the impact of racial injustice and violence, we can feel mentally and emotionally depleted. Find ways to fill up your mental and emotional cup. This calls on you to listen to your mind and emotions, to recognize how it’s showing up for you and then how to respond in ways that serve and nourish you. Whether that is taking a break from social media, doing your most impactful self-care and spiritual practices or being able to voice your experience, it can give you the courage to press on.
I believe that beginning to implement remembrance, collective healing, and mental and emotional nourishment can take you on the path to understanding, voicing and healing from the impact of racial trauma. Remember that one of the greatest forms of resistance is healing us individually and collectively. While racial trauma is difficult to endure, we have the might to take our power back, fight for liberation and do the healing work to make our ancestors proud.