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January 11, 2022

Self-care strategies can help Black people cope with racial trauma, mental health clinicians say

A virtual panel discussion hosted by The Black Paradise Project will outline the adverse health effects of racism and highlight coping mechanisms

Mental Health Racism
Mental health racial trauma Jenna Miller/Delaware News Journal

Racial trauma can cause fear, hypervigilance, stomach pain, headaches, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and the development of hypertension, obesity and diabetes. Above, a crowd protests against police violence in Philadelphia following the police killing of George Floyd in 2020.

The trauma caused by racism affects Black communities both mentally and physically, leading to short-term and long-term health consequences. 

Kimberly Marie Ashby, a clinical psychologist and visual artist, and Yannick Lowery, also a visual artist, founded The Black Paradise Project to help Black people in Philadelphia cope with this trauma. 

The Black Paradise Project partners with Black-owned businesses, organizations and people to host monthly joy-based events that create safe spaces for Black people to find relief from racial trauma through self-care.

On Wednesday, The Black Paradise Project is hosting a virtual panel discussion with Black mental health clinicians to discuss the damage racism causes to people of color and to promote self-care strategies that can help with the healing process. 

Racial trauma can include microaggressions, structural inequity and police violence, Ashby said. She added that because recent police violence has been so physical and so publicized, Black communities have been exposed to racial trauma in ways like they never have before.

The short-term effects of this trauma include fear, hypervigilance, stomach pain and headaches, Ashby said. The long-term effects include post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and the development of hypertension, obesity and diabetes. 

Black adults in the U.S. are more likely than white adults to report persistent symptoms of emotional distress such as sadness and hopelessness, according to the federal Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health.

But many Black people don't receive mental health care. Only 1 in 3 Black adults who need mental health care receive it, Ashby said. 

Black people also are more likely to use emergency rooms or primary care providers instead of seeking out mental health specialists, according to the American Psychiatric Association

During the panel discussion, four therapists will reflect on the impact racial trauma has had on their lives, share their clinical experiences working with people experiencing racial trauma, and provide perspectives on ways to heal from racial trauma.

"The panelists will be able to provide a rich discussion because each of them comes at racial trauma from a different perspective," said Ashby, who will lead the discussion.

Ashby provided several examples of self-care strategies to cope with racial trauma:

• Acknowledging thoughts and feelings through mindfulness practices such journaling, active reflection and body scans to check for signs of stress
• Discussing racially traumatizing situations with friends, family and spiritual leaders
• Engaging in activities that speak out about racial injustices and promote change
• Participating in self-care activities that bring pleasure and joy and promote a healthy lifestyle.
• Seeking support from community members and counseling professionals

The panel discussion begins at 6:30 p.m. People interested in attending can register online.

The panel discussion and other joy-based events are being held in conjunction with the Mural Arts Porch Light Program and the city's Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services.

The Porch Light Program is a partnership with the city government to focus on mental health and wellness, particularly to reach people in communities that might be hesitant about seeking care for mental health issues, according to director Nadia Malik. 

Every year, the program chooses a signature project. This year, the program sought to bring Black artists and clinicians together to address the mental health effects of racism through its partnership with The Black Paradise Project.

Previously held joy-based events have included guided hiking with Outdoor Afro, a nonprofit that connects Black people to nature experiences, and a workshop on herbs from the African Diaspora led by Farmer Jawn, an organization that strives to increase access to farm-fresh, organic foods. Dance therapist and choreographer Caitlin Green also has hosted a dance workshop. 

Ashby and Lowery plan to use images from the joy-based events to create a Philadelphia mural that simultaneously acknowledges experiences of racial trauma and celebrates joy in spite of the circumstances. 

Responses from a survey asking Philadelphia residents of color to anonymously share their stories related to racism and mental health also will help inform the development of the mural.

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