What is Racial Trauma?
Updated: Jul 1, 2021
Racial trauma, also sometimes referred to as race-based traumatic stress (RBTS), refers to mental and emotional stress that is a result of racial bias, discrimination, and hate crimes. People can also suffer from institutional racism – governmental or organizational laws, policies, and practices that selectively disadvantage certain groups of people from access to goods, services, and opportunities based on race or other demographics. Those individuals who experience these types of encounters can subsequently deal with negative repercussions.
The Mental Health Impacts of Racial Trauma
Individuals who experience racial trauma not only deal with the initial event, but with the lingering negative effects. Many individuals experience post-traumatic stress disorder, which can bring with it depression, anger, anxiety, headaches, insomnia, and low self-esteem. Many Black Americans develop healthy cultural paranoia or cultural mistrust as an appropriate defense against racial and discriminatory threats.
While RBTS can look similar to PTSD, it is not considered a mental health disorder, rather it is considered a mental injury that occurs as a result of experiencing racial injustice, such as stereotype threat – the stressful state whereby BIPOC individuals develop sustained vigilance to the threat of being stereotyped or profiled.
Symptoms of RBTS
While a formal diagnosis of RBTS requires that an individual be assessed by a qualified mental health professional, many people can self-assess to determine if they may be suffering as a result of RBTS.
Here are some of the most common symptoms of racial trauma:
You may find yourself constantly thinking about or reliving the event. This can include having flashbacks or nightmares.
Are you avoiding people, places, or things that remind you of the event? For example, someone who experiences a traumatic situation in their apartment building may feel the need to move. Or someone who experienced a frightening situation at a favorite park may avoid that park from now on.
Anxiety and Depression
It is common for victims of racial trauma to suffer from intense anxiety and/or depression.
A Lack of Trust or Security
A person may lose trust in others and begin to feel unsafe, even in their own home.
This describes when a person feels numb or disconnected from their own life and the people in it.
Getting Help for Racial Trauma
If you’ve been the victim of racial injustice, it’s important that you get the help you need so your life can get back on track. A therapist can help validate your experience, help you identify and process your emotions, as well as offering coping tools.
As a culturally-sensitive therapist, my goal is to help empower and advocate for you. If you are suffering as a result of racial trauma, please reach out to me. I’d be more than happy to discuss treatment options.
Stephanie Post, PsyD. at Higher Self Psychotherapy specializes in trauma therapy, anxiety therapy, depression therapy, and self-esteem therapy online anywhere in California and in the Marina neighborhood of San Francisco.
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