Black Lives Matter: Racism and Discrimination Can Inflict Mental Trauma

Black Lives Matter: Racism and Discrimination Can Inflict Mental Trauma

The Black Lives Matter movement was initiated in 2013, by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi to show resilience against the violence and oppression that black people experience, due to racism and discrimination. A dear friend of mine had the pleasure of speaking to Patrisse Cullors at an event in 2016, she explained to my friend her personal reason for starting the movement.  She continued on, that as a single mother to a son, the death of Trayvon Martin hit her hard, she saw Trayvon in her own son.  It was long overdue to creat another movement, to speak loudly and clearly that injustice was still very much alive.  To be dehumanized by the state and vigilantes, merely because of the different color of their skin is unacceptable and a violation of human rights, human rights that the authorities do not always face any charges for violating.

What Events Led to the Creation of this Movement?

This movement began with a social media hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, in response to three violent accounts in 2013. First being the unjust acquittal of George Zimmerman, who shot an African-American teenager, named Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. Second and third being, the lack of accountability for police brutality, causing the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and of Eric Garner in New York. Protests started taking place in Ferguson. As a result, this movement sparked the demonstrations and conversations exposing numerous other similar cases.

What Recent Event Sparked the Revolution of this Movement Worldwide?

In 2020, this movement made a come-back, bigger than ever before. This was the consequence of two cases, that became the international news headline instantly. Firstly, Ahmed Arbery was fatally shot while he was jogging in his neighborhood, completely unarmed, in Glynn County, Georgia. Secondly, the death of George Floyd, and the failure to charge the police officer right away, Derek Chauvin who arrested him with a counterfeit bill and choked him to death, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Psychological Effects of Racism

Racism engenders long-term and short-term psychological impacts.

Short term impacts include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Anger Issues

Long term consequences on one’s psychology are bound to be life-long, and would require specialized therapy, to be able to deal with them, like:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Genetic impairment

Psychological Effects on African-Americans

There are six types of racism-induced stress felt by African-Americans, subcategorized into these levels:

Individual Level

Three types of stress are felt at the individual level: racism-related life events, day-to-day micro stressors, chronic-contextual stress. To further elaborate, racism-related life events are impactful, with seldom chances of occurrence. In contrast, day-to-day micro stressors are minor, yet take place very often. Chronic-contextual stress is because of holistic macro-environmental experiences.

Community Level

At the community level, vicarious and collective racist experiences cause stress, due to several reasons. For instance, via other African-American people’s racist encounters, or through how racist experiences are perceived as a community. The reasons include, but are not limited to, systemic exclusion from social spheres, like access to or discrimination within adequate healthcare, mental health services and education. Thereafter, they avoid seeking professional help altogether, worsening the circumstance, from a long-run viewpoint. They live in secluded neighborhoods as well, with poor living conditions, and high crime rates. To top it off, they are not given equal opportunities in the workplace, due to factors that are not in their control, like the race they were born into.

Generational Level

This includes transgenerational transmission, which means historical events repeating themselves, through generations. This can potentially contribute to long-term, permanent damage, via epigenetics – permanent genetic impairment. Epigenetics proves that one’s environment and experiences are likely to alter gene activity. It is possible for it to be passed through generations, during meiosis. It can negatively impact gene expression. Hence, it is essential to combat racism altogether. But amidst the procession of that revolution, one must seek professional psychological help, to avoid this dire consequence. This brings forth the next question, who benefits from this immoral system?

White Fragility

This is a mode of dominance, not weakness. This makes it impossible to have a conversation about racism, and how all of us are compelled to conform and participate in those practices. Any connection to racism is considered a moral offense to white people. This reaction is triggered by the anxiety and discomfort some white people face, as they were born with a superior standing and entitlement in society. Some white people resort to this defense mechanism; while others feel the psychological effects of white guilt.

Psychological Effects of Guilt White People are Starting to Feel

Upon reflection of others being oppressed by white people in the past, and in the present, some white people tend to feel remorse, pain, sadness and anger. They witness non-white people’s unjust treatment in society and feel terrible about it. They try their best to empathize and be compassionate. White guilt encompasses this mix of emotions, amongst white people.

Different Types of White Guilt

This comprises a variety of reasons.

  1. The mistakes of their parents
  2. White immigrants in the US, after the civil war
  3. Committing racist acts, intentionally or unintentionally
  4. Not contributing to combatting racism, and fighting against the brutal subjugation
  5. Realization of benefitting from such an unjust system, and feeling a moral failure
  6. When white guilt takes precedence over racial atrocities
  7. Healthy white guilt, which can lead to a positive social change

How to Psychologically Navigate Through These Tough Times

It is essential to take care of yourself, and your mental health during these stressful times. Mental health can significantly impact your physical health too. It can lead to the development of cardiovascular diseases. However, reaching out for mental health services can ironically be detrimental to African-American people’s mental health. There is a lack of other black people in this field, to better understand the needs and the experiences of their community members. There is a lack of access to these services. Even if there is access to these services, there are biases within the practitioner’s assistance. Like a black person with a minor mental health issue will be assumed to have a much more major one, also because of a lack of awareness and limited research on their mental health. It can be extremely challenging to find services that meet your expectations and needs. Before diving into that, how can you cope with these tough times? Are there any special services available for that?

EMDR Therapy

This is helpful, in terms of moving past your past traumatic experiences, by discussing it with your therapist. Once the therapist decides which memory to focus on, the EMDR therapy can proceed. It can drastically change how you view yourself, or your life in terms of the past, the present and the future. This could be extremely beneficial for those undergoing the trauma or the stress associated with racism in society. To benefit from EMDR therapy as soon as possible, book an appointment here in our EMDR Therapy & Services page.


Just in case you do not feel comfortable physically going to a therapist’s office, or feel too anxious to discuss such heavy topics face-to-face, there is an option to do it via a phone call, within the comfort of your home, or wherever you prefer to be. This can help with stress management, anger management, relationship issues, and substance abuse, to name but a few. You can set up an appointment for teletherapy with MindShift Psychological Services right away.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

This teaches you how to change your thinking, perception and reaction to situations, by making you aware of the inaccuracy of your negative thoughts. This is a more hands-on approach to mental health. It can help with managing emotions, stress management, understanding other people’s motivations and actions better, depression, anxiety, and PTSD, to name but a few. Do you think this is the one for you? If the answer is yes, click here to get started with CBT.

Why Choose Us?

MindShift Psychological Services include various other therapies too, like group therapy, trauma therapy, depression therapy, psychotherapy for individuals, child psychology, teen therapy, LGBTQ+ therapy, and more. It does not discriminate based on gender or race. For more details to ascertain which type of therapy suits you best, or to book an appointment with a mental health professional, visit MindShift Wellness Center.