Mental health experts have been long studying the effects of racism-based trauma on overall health but there have been no programs to offer any special training to look after treating debilitating effects of racism and discrimination.
Black people and Indigenous communities are often the victims of racial trauma that affects their physical as well as mental health. It occurs not only when people are directly exposed to racial disparities but also when they go through a vicarious phenomenon that passed through generations after generations.
Psychologist Maryam Jernigan-Noesi, who studied at Boston College’s Institute for the Study and Promotion of Race and Culture, said, “The piece about racial trauma that is really unique is the intergenerational impact. So it’s not just me and my lifetime and what I’ve experienced — it’s the stories you heard from family members, it’s witnessing that of colleagues or peers, and now with social media and online mechanisms of folks sharing videos, it’s also witnessing things that you may not experience directly.”
Racial trauma is becoming a more frequent issue that needs official treatment in the field of mental or psychological health. It needs to be addressed and treated because it has its own challenges and effect on the exposed victims.
Some experts think that racial trauma could greatly affect sleep. Washington-based clinical psychologist Lillian Comas-Diaz said, “Sleep is a psychological issue and also a physiological issue. It becomes a constant source of even more stress because when you don’t sleep well, you worry more — and that enforces this cycle.”
She explained that sleep issues such as insomnia, night terrors, and nightmares contribute to sleep deprivation for someone who goes through constant racism or discrimination.
Jernigan-Noesi noted that racial trauma could lead to eating disorders in some people. She said, “For some folks, they may find they are eating more. There is research that suggests certain foods kind of trigger the responses in our bodies that improve our mood — things like sweets and carbohydrates. So there is a way in which we can associate that over time.”
Some detrimental effects of racial trams are triggered through vicarious experiences, as well. Comas-Diaz explained, “Differing from many other kinds of stress is vicarious racial trauma, which actually today we are witnessing due to technology. It really adds another layer of trauma for people of color — the vicarious aspect of racial trauma is affecting many, many people.”
Another effect of racial trauma includes an increase in cortisol, the stress hormone. “Even though cortisol can help us deal with challenges — particularly a survivalist kind of thing — a constant volume of cortisol is not good and is actually not healthy,” Comas-Diaz said.
Prolonged stress could lead to anxiety, depression, and hyper-vigilance.
Jernigan-Noesi said, “Significant experiences of racial discrimination have negative consequences with regard to mental health,” she explained. “People have reported things like increased experiences of anxiety, symptoms that are related to depression, and increased hypervigilance.”
Unfortunately, racial trauma is a vicious, never-ending cycle. The article originally appeared on Huffington Post.