By: Alyssa Wilson
Being Black in America comes with trauma, fear and many other emotions, but those feelings are often suppressed and left untreated. According to research conducted by the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry, adults in the Black community are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems. Black people between the ages of 18 to 25 also experience higher rates of mental health issues and lower mental health service utilization rates than their white counterparts.
Further research found although the Black community makes up about 12% of the U.S. population, they are overrepresented in high-risk and marginalized populations like those experiencing homelessness, prison populations and the foster care system. “Research shows that exposure to violence, incarceration, and involvement in the foster care system can increase the chances of developing a mental illness. Consequently, the Black community, in particular, is at significantly increased risk of developing a mental health issue due to historical, economic, social, political influences that systemically expose the Black community to factors known to be damaging to psychological and physical health,” the university reported.
As part of BNC’s commitment to shining light on mental health and the Black community, we spoke to Nia Jones, a Black Mental Health Alliance consultant. Jones is a Licensed Social Worker who is responsible for co-leading the organization’s Youth Wellness Initiative and other special projects.
How can the Black community combat trauma?
When asked how the Black community could combat the trauma they experience on a day-to-day basis, Jones said by checking in with one another. “What we have to focus on as a people and as a community is really on our collective responsibility to each other.”
Jones called the Black community’s need for healing political and not clinical. Citing systems in the country that oppress the Black people, Jones said the seeds of the country’s misdeeds have sprouted trauma. “If we understand that our healing is more political than anything, it’s running around, checking in on each other and advocating for what you need in your communities,” she said.
Results from the 2010 Census revealed that it undercounted the African-American population by 800,000. Jones said things like that could have a negative impact on resources the Black community gets which plays a role in mental health and traumatic experiences. “We continue to ignore things like the census when that’s what tells different neighborhoods, it tells us exactly what we need. And so, if we don’t have that voice at the table, there’s another 10 years. Another generation yet unborn is impacted.”
How can marginalized populations practice self-care?
Modern self-care methods are often tied to capitalism and material offerings like massages, vacations or luxury items. Marginalized populations, including those experiencing homelessness, individuals who are incarcerated, refugees and undocumented immigrants, do not have the same access to those experiences.
The concept of self-care gained popularity after Audre Lorde, a Black woman, wrote a book after being diagnosed with cancer. According to The Guardian, Lorde called her “self-preservation” an “act of political warfare.” Writer Brigid Delaney described the change in the self-care industry as one “put through the grinder of late-stage capitalism and appropriated by white, corporate feminism and the industrial wellness complex.”
Jones said, “Capitalism is inherently evil” and people should return to the simple things in life like sitting by the water, practicing mindfulness or writing. She also encouraged members of marginalized populations to invest in what they eat and the art of enjoying it as a form of self-care.
Is mindfulness the key to helping the Black community enjoy life more as a whole?
“Absolutely,” Jones said, citing that the struggles the Black community continues to face can force them into a mode of survival, and prevent them from enjoying what life has to offer. “So often our communities we find that the hopelessness that lives and breathes in so many of our communities keeps us from living. We exist,” she said.
Jones also pointed out that the meditation and yoga industry is not reflective of the Black community outside of smaller platforms like Black Girl in Om.
What mental health best practices would you give the Black community?
Jones’ first tip is to read different books that expose individuals to different life experiences. “Grab a book that doesn’t sound like your life,” she said. “If we’re working through some serious trauma, it’s not a good idea. Don’t go do that, but go get something else. Go get something that you normally wouldn’t go for.”
Her second tip is to stop suppressing emotions and secrets and instead talk to someone who can help. “Stop being so secretive. Those secrets have eaten away at our communities for generations and it’s not saving anybody. It sure as heck ain’t serving anybody,” she said.
The final tip is for people to take a break from social media. While she expressed joy in seeing Black excellence on platforms, she noted that it causes many comparisons. “Don’t let somebody’s curated life become your standard for living,” she said. “Don’t let the things that somebody picked out about their life become your standard because I’m pretty sure that behind that camera was a whole pile of junk or behind that camera they had just had an argument with somebody or behind that camera there’s a whole lot of anxiety and depression.”
Again bringing up Black trauma as political, Jones closed the conversation by urging the Black community to remember their collective responsibility to each other. “We are a people that thrive on that collective reliance of each other. And knowing our healing is political, that’s a part of you,” she said. “Everything you need is already inside of you and if it’s not in you, it’s in your community somewhere.”
If you or someone you know is struggling from trauma or needs someone to talk to, resources are available for you here.