By Kat Stafford, Associated Press
Black Men Heal co-founder Zakia Williams was deeply moved watching a young black man get emotional while talking about the mental toll the past few years have taken on him.
“He said ‘I just want to play basketball without fear of getting shot, I just want to live. I just want to be,'” the youngster recalled during a virtual group therapy session, Kings Corner, that his Philadelphia-based group hosts weekly for black men in the United States and around the world.
“A lot of our men say they’re overwhelmed, tired and feel like they’re under attack. They see themselves in George Floyd. Each of them says, ‘That could have been me.’ »
Wednesday marked the two-year anniversary of the killing of Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, which sparked a global protest and calls for racial reckoning to address structural racism that has created long-standing inequalities affecting generations of American blacks.
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Floyd’s murder, along with a series of murders of other black Americans, has taken a heavy toll on the emotional and mental health of black communities burdened by centuries of oppressive systems and racist practices. Mental health experts say the racism that causes trauma is ingrained in the fabric of the country and can be directly linked to the mental duress many people experience today.
But the nation has been slow to acknowledge the generational impact of racial trauma, a form of identity-related distress that people of color experience as a result of racism and discrimination.
“Black mental health has always been a concern,” said Dr. Christine Crawford, associate medical director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
“Continually seeing these images of black people being killed… can cause trauma-like symptoms in black people and other people who feel somehow connected to what is happening,” she said. This “impact of proxy racism has certainly contributed to worsening mental health conditions, particularly within the black community.
The past two years have been particularly traumatic for Black Americans as the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked devastating havoc on their communities, claiming the lives of elders, community pillars and loved ones across the country.
“The neighbors who never came back after that ambulance ride, we saw it up close and personal,” Riana Elyse Anderson, a psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, told about his hometown of Detroit, which was affected. hard by the pandemic.
“And the greater black community, when you see how disproportionate the impact has been on our mental health, our financial well-being and the loved ones who are no longer there, it’s really difficult for us to go from the front.”
A collective sense of trauma resurfaced on May 14 when 10 black people were killed by a white supremacist in body armor targeting shoppers and workers at Tops Friendly Market in a predominantly black neighborhood of Buffalo, New York. For many, the grief seems endless.
“In Buffalo, we see people who look like our family and we have to deal with that,” said Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, a civil rights organization. “It’s a set of circumstances that black people and other communities who have been targeted, attacked and exploited constantly have to deal with.”
“It’s the simultaneous work of having to take care of yourself, dealing with the trauma, and then thinking about how to get on the path forward and it’s work we’ve had to do for generations,” did he declare. “And it’s stressful and tiring work.”
While black Americans experience similar rates of mental illness to other Americans in general, disparities persist, according to a 2021 study from the American Psychological Association. Black Americans often receive substandard care and lack access to culturally appropriate care.
Only 1 in 3 Black Americans who need mental health help receive it, and Black adults living below the poverty line are more than twice as likely to report severe psychological distress as American adults who receive mental health help. greater financial security, according to the US Department of Health and Human Rights. Minority Health Services Office.
Although disparities exist across the board for black Americans, the APA study noted that black men in particular have not received the help they need. Only 26.4% of black and Hispanic men aged 18-44 who experienced daily feelings of anxiety or depression were likely to have used mental health services, compared to 45.4% of white men with the same feelings.
Black Men Heal was launched in 2018 as a solution to the country’s ‘broken and inequitable mental health care system’ that has never succeeded in centering the needs of black Americans and other people of color, according to group leaders . Its main program pairs therapists of color with men, who receive eight free one-on-one therapy sessions. Over 1,100 therapy sessions have been delivered since the group’s inception and 50 therapists have been recruited. Nearly 80% of men continue their mental health care beyond the free sessions.
“If a man can heal himself, he has the ability to heal his family, who then have the ability to heal our community,” said Williams, the group’s chief operating officer.
After the Buffalo shooting, some black Americans expressed outrage and fear, saying they should be able to go about their daily lives without feeling threatened or killed. The grocery store where the attack happened was a gathering place, especially for older residents of the community.
Black organizations have worked to provide resources for families of Buffalo shooting victims, including access to mental health care. Phylicia Brown, executive director of Black Love Resists in the Rust, said the member-run abolitionist organization collected donations to provide a year of access to mental health services for residents affected by the shooting.
“Buffalo is one of the most segregated cities in the country,” Brown said. “It’s important to talk about our history of white supremacist violence through acts like this. And I think it’s really had an impact on ordinary citizens and our black mental health workers, who are in grieving and angry and feeling everything we feel.”
Brown, whose group was formed after the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, to strategize about breaking down racist systems and practices, said real change won’t happen until the nation will not have truly dismantled the white supremacy and racism that has been allowed. traumatize and terrorize black people throughout history.
“Unless white people control themselves and each other, unless white people organize at the rate that black people organize,” Brown said, “it will be very difficult for us to make the experience of freedom in this country.”
Stafford, based in Detroit, is a national racing investigative writer for the AP’s Race and Ethnicity team. Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/kat__stafford.
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