Racial Trauma and Mental Health
Racial Trauma refers to the mental and emotional injury caused by encounters with racial bias and ethnic discrimination, racism, and hate crimes. Racial trauma is something that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and many others experience daily, and their experiences can range from painful to overwhelming. In many cases this trauma can show up in subtle ways, making it difficult to identify emotions and address them in the moment.
It is however important to note that racial trauma is not limited to a specific race. This trauma can also be felt when witnessing the harm experienced by other racial or ethnic groups.
The effect of racism and racial trauma on mental health is real and cannot be ignored. It is a psychological trauma with symptoms comparable to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: DSM-5 criteria for PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), which include negative alterations to cognition and mood, intrusive symptoms, avoidance, and physical reactions.
Here are 5 ways to address racial trauma:
1. Acknowledging Trauma
One way to begin coping with racial trauma is to acknowledge its impact: see it when it happens and validate the emotions that may arise in the moment.
Make a list of situations, people, or places that trigger your symptoms of trauma, and make a similar list of ways to cope for each of these situations, people, or places.
If you’re not sure where to begin, consider writing about a specific experience. What happened? How did it make you feel in the moment, both emotionally and physically? How does the experience affect you now?
2. Creating Community
Being seen and heard is essential to healing. Finding and being able to hold space with others who have similar experiences can be healing.
Connect with friends and others who are able to engage in racially conscious conversations and willing to help you process your thoughts and emotions.
3. Taking Action
Feeling empowered involves participating in actions to solve difficulties. Social action can take many forms, whether it be voting or volunteering in your community.
4. Working through Therapy
Practice self-care by engaging in activities that you enjoy and make you happy. Seek professional help if you need it. Therapy can be a great space to process racial trauma with a therapist who is able to help you navigate your emotions and reactions.
5. Remaining Hopeful
Hope isn’t the alleviation of fearful risk or the sidelining of anxiety. It’s the choice to see beyond the current circumstances to something better despite the presence of those feelings.
Holding onto hope is an important aspect of moving forward. This is not to discount what is being felt in the moment, but to hold onto the idea that healing is a possibility, which is so important in finding your way forward.
If you believe you may be suffering from race-based traumatic stress or racial trauma, it is important to seek therapy from a multicultural or racial trauma-informed therapist. At Rai Counseling, our therapists work to create an open, culturally affirming, empowered space for you to heal from racialized trauma in all its various forms.
RAI Counseling has a diverse team of experienced Master's level and licensed therapists who provide a variety of counseling services and resources to children, youth, adults, families, and other professionals.
We lead with Respect, Compassion & Empowerment as we help you find useful ways of coping, increase self-awareness and self-compassion, and work towards a more balanced and enjoyable life.
-----------------------------------------------------  University of Georgia, Department of Psychology www.psychology.uga.edu