Art by Madeline Duvall
On March 17, a domestic terrorist purposefully targeted three spas in Atlanta. Nearly all of his eight victims were Asian women.
On May 25, a police officer in charge of protecting citizens abused his power and killed an innocent man named George Floyd. A subsequent trial is currently underway, intensifying the deep-rooted pain from this summer.
In 2020, hate crimes against the Hispanic community reached an 11-year high.
Combined, all of these incidents point to one fact — being a person of color in the United States is not only dangerous but also extremely heart-wrenching. Therefore, it’s imperative that students of color take care of their mental health.
In a technology-driven world, racial trauma is only magnified through social media. It is already traumatizing to hear of these events, but now videos of attacks on innocent Black, Asian and Hispanic people circulate through social media and the news.
Exposure to prejudice and discrimination causes severe psychosocial impairments, according to the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies. Even more heartbreaking, exposure to hate crimes can lead to symptoms of PTSD, depression, anxiety and substance abuse.
In communities of color, open dialogue about mental health receives little to no support.
For example, mental illness can be stigmatized and seen as a burden or weakness within some parts of the Asian American community, according to Psychiatry.org. Therefore, some Asian Americans may feel fearful of speaking up.
Within the Black community, there is a strong sentiment of medical distrust. Throughout American history, scientists would frequently conduct unethical experiments on Black bodies, creating generational trauma still seen today.
An example of this is the Tuskegee Study, where scientists studied the effects of syphilis in 600 Black men from 1932 to 1972. Once these scientists found the cure for syphilis, they refused to offer it to the men who were dying or going blind as a result of not being treated.
This trauma contributes to fear of doctors and mental health professionals, which ultimately leads to mental health issues being studied less frequently in Black people than white people.
Additionally, mental health resources may be inaccessible to many communities of color.
Only one in three African Americans who need mental health support receive it — and when they do, they are less likely to receive psychotherapy or medicine, according to Psychiatry.org. Lack of insurance covering mental health treatments and culturally incompetent providers further leads to this inaccessibility.
Despite these barriers, students of color must consider seeking resources at their schools, checking in with themselves and validating their own mental health struggles.
Across the United States, many college campuses offer counseling services. At Pepperdine, students of color have a variety of options.
For Pepperdine students living in California, the Counseling Center offers individual virtual appointments available at no cost with a counselor after an intake appointment. For those outside of California, group counseling is offered at no cost, including Black and international student support groups.
For those who aren’t comfortable with counseling, Pepperdine offers a free premium subscription to the app Sanvello. Sanvello is based on the principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy and mindfulness meditation, which have strategies shown to provide effective relief for mental health concerns including anxiety and depression, according to its website. Students can find mental health resources ranging from guided meditations to writing prompts.
Furthermore, on a nationwide scale, there needs to be a greater effort made to recruit POC counselors who acknowledge and understand the effects of racial trauma on the human mind. Seeing a therapist with similar life experiences as oneself can increase the likelihood of beginning counseling sessions.
In addition, students of color must check in with themselves. The stress of school cultivates an environment where it is easy to live life on “auto-pilot” without truly acknowledging how one is feeling. Sitting in silence, writing out thoughts or talking to a friend are all ways to understand where one is mentally, especially in light of recent events. If someone realizes they are struggling to process what emotions racist events stir up, then it may be time to reach out for outside help.
Finally, students of color must validate their own mental health struggles. Being in environments that value remaining silent about these issues may internally cause some students to ignore their own pain and try to overlook it. Instead, students should practice giving themselves gentle reminders that it is OK to struggle and be vulnerable. This can foster a space of self-compassion rather than self-criticism.
Students of colors’ mental health struggles are valid and justified. Most importantly, they need to be honored. These perspectives and pain are an important part of America coming together to build a more unified society, and it is up to every individual to create communities where these voices are uplifted and celebrated.
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Email Christian Parham: firstname.lastname@example.org